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Attend a virtual lawn care and pest management workshop

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Learn to identify causes of common lawn and garden problems along with tactics to address these problems in an environmentally friendly way. A virtual Lawn Care and Pest Management workshop is being held on July 15 at 6 p.m. Register at Gwinnetth2o.com by sending an email with your name, address, and phone number to DWRWorkshops@GwinnettCounty.com; or by calling 678.376.7193

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Getting to Know the Family at Station #4

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Left to right, Lt. Keith Fitzpatrick, FF Travis Button, FF Isaac Smith, Capt. Brian Rogers, FF Adam D’Alessandro, and DE Michael Poe. (Photos by Kris Bird)

It’s a dream for many women to spend a day in a firehouse. For this author, I will never forget my day of getting to know the incredible servicemen at Station #4 in Peachtree Corners.

As I sat down with them, they were receiving calls and requests. One man walked in asking for jumper cables and was back on his way within minutes. Your local Fire Department really does it all! In fact, when Station #4 was demolished by the tornado in 1998, the crew continued to work out of a trailer in the parking lot.

In the wake of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and Fire Prevention Week, observed during the first week of October, it’s time you get to know your local firefighters / lifesavers / superheroes.

Busy heroes

Station #4 is one of the busiest fire stations in the county. In fact, Adam D’Alessandro said that some nights, he ends up sleeping on the truck. Last year during COVID, they didn’t even see a drop in calls, just a change in the types of calls they received.

D’Alessandro has been at Station #4 for a year and a half. He didn’t originally want to be a firefighter; instead, he started out in the Gwinnett County Parks and Rec department, in the aquatics sector.

He said that in all the years he would have an emergency and need to call 911, Station #4 would always show up to the pool, so he got used to working with the people he would later call his family.

In case our readers are wondering who answered the call for the “runaway pig” story that swept the nation, Captain Brian Rogers remembers it well. The pigs were on their way to a robotics arm lab to be tested under robot arm surgery before the truck carrying them flipped. He stated that, “that isn’t the only highway runaway animal call we have gotten.”

Captain Rogers lives up to his Marvel superhero name — Captain America’s “secret” identity is Captain Steve Rogers — and maintains that firefighters are humble individuals who don’t like talking to people about themselves and aren’t looking for praise. Still, firefighters are “ordinary people who do extraordinary things.”

Captain Rogers has been at Station #4 since 2015, and he has been a firefighter for Gwinnett County since 1998, so he has seen a change in the types of calls firefighters are responsible for.

“Whoever thought back then that this would be a thing?” he asked, looking back over the many ways the fire department has changed — from fires to EMS to hazmat, then terrorism, and now pandemics and whatever else may come along.

In fact, when he graduated from college, through the firefighter college tuition reimbursement program, one of the papers he wrote was titled, “When the UFOs land, the Fire Department will be the first to arrive.”

As the list of tasks for your neighborhood firefighter gets longer, Captain Rogers has noticed a generational change. The younger generations seem to put more value on being with their families and loved ones than trying to supplement their income with another side job.

Did you know that firefighters work an average of 800 more hours a year than the average American? And most members of the department have young children to go home to and care for once their shifts are over.

Captain Rogers said he thinks it’s because the younger generations watched their parents work hard and dump everything into their jobs, only to have it ripped away in the crash of 2008. He likes to say that “they aren’t in it for the income, they are in it for the outcome.”

More members of the family

Isaac Smith, aka “Tiny Tim,” aka “The Rookie,” knows that he’s part of the family, even though he has only been part of Station #4 for a few months. Smith is fresh out of the academy, having completed “Fire 1 and EMT training,” and looking to go back to school for “Fire 2” shortly. He said that he got into becoming a firefighter because “you get to serve the public and get paid. They also take physical fitness very seriously.”

This author was there to witness the firefighters putting on their full gear and oxygen masks just to work out in the gym! Smith loves the opportunity to work with such a close-knit group, and he has made it his priority to learn and gain experience while “learning his new family.”

When asked whether firefighters really are good cooks, Smith assured me that if you don’t go into the fire department being a good cook, you will certainly leave as one.

Travis Button is one such great cook, and apparently being the “Truck Tailboard” means you also have to be the best chef. Like the front position in a bobsled, Button “has to work harder than anyone; he is the first one to show up, and the last to leave.”

Button checks every inch of the firetruck at the beginning of his shift. He has been hand chosen as the eyes and ears at the back of the truck, and he is the one who cooks and cleans for his crew at the end of his shift. Button said that his biggest struggle, since joining Station #4 a year and a half ago has been “not letting the job become your life.” With over 1700 hours of overtime under his belt, that can’t be easy.

Button has his paramedic certification, on top of his Fire 1 & 2, and EMT certifications, which means he has the highest non-hospital medical certification you can get. He mused that the funniest call he ever got was the “gas leak” they investigated that turned out to be a litterbox.

Brian Gaeth had been a firefighter for 11 years for the Gwinnett County Fire Department. Just two months ago, he transitioned into his role as Public Information Officer. Gaeth handles breaking news requests from the press and social media presence. He said the biggest struggle from the past year was navigating the nuances associated with COVID, since a fire department is essentially a family unit, and they spend the same amount of time together as a real family.

Working closely with the Gwinnett County Communications Department, Gaeth is gearing up for Fire Prevention Week and just got finished coordinating for Gwinnett Fire to observe the 9/11 anniversary at the Gwinnett County Fallen Heroes Memorial, where they can be found every year.

Keith Fitzpatrick, who is the current Lieutenant for the C-shift at Station #4, opened up about some of the less gratifying parts of the job. Fitzpatrick has worked at Station #4 for a year and a half. Before that he earned nine years of experience as a medic.

He is a member of the Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) program, which offers regular counseling to help combat the trauma that firefighters are exposed to. The organization meets with firefighters who have experienced extreme emotional strain in hopes of preventing depression and suicide.

Fitzpatrick spoke of the firefighter gene that ran in his family. At the age of 17, he got to go on his first ride-along with his cousin. His father begged him not to become a firefighter, knowing how dangerous the job was. But, he said, years later his dad came around when he saw how much the job meant to him.

Captain Rogers let me in on a Station #4 tradition: whoever is featured in the press has to buy ice cream for the rest of the crew. Well, guys, looks like you’re having an ice cream party this week!

What you need to know about Fire Prevention Week

According to Adam D’Alessandro, “Families need to make a plan, especially families with young kids. And don’t forget that we install smoke detectors for you for free.”

Keith Fitzpatrick added, “This Fire Prevention Week will focus on knowing the sounds of fire safety. If your smoke detector is beeping, have the batteries replaced. If the fire alarm is going off, don’t think it is a drill, just get outside.”

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Walk with a Purpose with Ausomewalkies

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Ashley Dudley with mom Dee Dudley, dubbed “Mom-ager” for her assistance with Ausomewalkies and keeping its roll information. (Dudley’s photos from Facebook.)

With the ever-compounding stresses of post-2020 life, no one should have to walk alone. But for people on the autism spectrum, initiating and maintaining meaningful social interactions and relationships can be fraught with anxiety and pitfalls.

Peachtree Corners surrounding area resident Ashley Dudley is all too familiar with the struggles of autistic adults, so she decided to do something constructive about it. Last year, Dudley began Ausomewalkies, a casual walking group for people on the autism spectrum to enjoy nature together and each other’s company while improving social skills.

“I wanted to share my experience in a way that other autistic adults would understand. Also, a lot of autistic adults have a hard time socializing in general, so I thought this would be a great way to not only get exercise but make friends,” Dudley said.

The walks are usually held at Brook Run Park in Dunwoody, keeping to pretty much the same walking path each time for those who like the routine. Currently the walks are on pause due to COVID-19 concerns, but they will resume once it makes sense to do so.

Dudley has participated in various panels discussing autism Awareness and has shared her journey as an African American woman on the spectrum publicly with groups such as Autism Speaks.

Dudley was diagnosed as an adult with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which most likely contributed to learning challenges as she was growing up. She disclosed she was often bullied by peers in school due to having to be in special education classes. But she uses these experiences to help relate to and advocate for others with ASD.

“My goal is to become the next major motivational speaker and advocate for adults with autism, especially ones who were diagnosed later in Iife like I was,” Dudley said.

Ausomewalkies has brought together a great bunch of positive people who not only work to accept their ASD, but to embrace it. Sometimes parents, caregivers and friends will accompany loved ones for support.

Ausomewalkers share their experiences

Andrew Dixon

“My name is Andrew Dixon and I enjoy these autism walks with Ashley and the crew because I feel like I’m having fun with these people; plus I get to keep up and follow up with what’s going on in my life like what’s going on in the past week or month. Thanks, Ashley,” Ausomewalker Dixon said.

Mimi Sapra

Mimi Sapra of Alpharetta is a Support Coordinator at CareNow Services in Roswell. Her job responsibilities include billing-related work such as patient encounter reviewing and data entry of patient referral processing and demographics.

“My reasons to join Ausomewalkies is to socialize with everybody, have a nice change of scenery and have positive conversations with friends about pleasant topics that bring happiness and joy. Ausomewalkies also gives me the opportunity to promote autism awareness and acceptance,” Sapra said.

“They are a good example of spreading autism awareness. It shows that even though we learn things a little differently from others, we can still be able to do things,” Ausomewalker Justin Bentley said about the group. “Going on Ausomewalkies is a good way to get a good workout in and make new friends. What a perfect way to bring autistics closer together!”

Justin Bentley

Dudley is proud of the success of the walks and hopes to bring the Ausomewalkers together again as soon as it makes sense and to make the walks a resource for more people to enjoy. For more information on Ausomewalkies, please contact Ashley Dudley at ashypoo.ad@gmail.com

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Gwinnett Officials to cut ribbon for relocated Norcross Branch of Gwinnett County Public Library

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Gwinnett County will host a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the completion of the new Norcross Branch of the Gwinnett County Public Library. This will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 26 at 3 p.m., at 5735 Buford Highway, Norcross, Ga. 30071

The new branch — located on a 1.6-acre site connected to Lillian Webb Park — is about twice as large as the previous Norcross Branch facility. Features include 45 computer stations, three learning labs, two study rooms, a meeting room that can fit 120 people, an outdoor pedestrian plaza and a 128-space parking deck.

The library and parking deck are the result of a partnership with the city of Norcross. The County’s share of the project is funded by the 2009 and 2014 SPLOST programs.

Gwinnett County Public Library Executive Director Charles Pace will emcee the event. Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Nicole Hendrickson, District 2 Commissioner Ben Ku, Norcross Mayor Craig Newton and Gwinnett County Public Library Board of Trustees Chair Dr. Wandy Taylor will provide remarks.

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