MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Every month WKRG News 5 recognizes a first responder who goes above and beyond the call of duty on the Gulf Coast. Our Smiles Behind the Shield Award honors the heroes who not only save lives, they change them for the better. They make positive impacts in our community.

For the month of December, WKRG News 5 is looking back at our award winners for 2022.

Our January Smiles Behind the Shield Award brought us to Summerdale where all of Snook Christian Academy set out to surprise Lieutenant Vincent Miller. (Click here to watch that full story.) We asked him if he expected the gesture from the students. He said, Not at all. It’s a very, very good surprise.”

Lieutenant Miller, like our other award recipients, said it’s his calling to help people. He said, “That’s something that we all enjoy doing is to make sure that people in the community feel safe.”

February brought about Mardi Gras and the WKRG News 5 Smiles Behind the Shield team went out to honor some of the officers who keep parade-goers safe. Mobile’s Mounted Unit puts in a lot of work training to make sure people stay safe amid the floats, throws, and marching bands. (Click here to see our full story on the Mounted Unit.)

In March, we surprised Officer Matt Parker on his last day with Prichard Police. He used his own time comforting a family who had just lost a loved one. Brenda Huggins and her husband Terry had been married since 1985. When he didn’t wake up one morning, she called for help. Officer Matt Parker showed up at her house near the end of his shift that day.

Brenda said, “He could’ve been in and out of there in 10 or 15 minutes, but he stayed on his own time and was very consoling to all of us and he just shared stories with us and talked with us and let us share stories with him.” (Click here to see the full story about Officer Matt Parker.)

April took the WKRG News 5 Smiles Behind the Shield team to Okaloosa County where Deputy Misty Piaget used her own money to help a woman left in unexpected circumstances. The woman sent a card thanking Misty. The card also had money inside, but Misty decided to give the money away. We asked, “What did you do with that money that Betty sent?” Misty responded, “I donated it back to our department to our Star Charities that helps other deputies in need.” (Click here to see our full story about Deputy Misty Piaget.)

May took us out to Orange Beach Fire Rescue where Stephen Lee pulls double duty saving lives as a firefighter and then at a second job as a nurse. He told us why he works two jobs that serve the community. “It’s for the one call that we do make a difference on,” said Stephen. (Click here to see our full story about Stephen.)

In June our team surprised Elberta Police Officer Mike Tomaso with his award on his birthday. He rescued a woman from a burning house. When Officer Tomaso got to a house fire at Pilgrim Road and County Road 83, he said he saw flames shooting from the back right side. “Luckily, I was right at State and Main, like right in downtown,” said Tomaso. He risked his own life bringing the woman inside the home to safety. (Click here to see our full story about Officer Mike Tomaso.)

We met some of our youngest Smiles Behind the Shield Award winners in July. The lifeguards at Gulf Shores performed water rescues keeping visitors safe all year. Gulf Shores Fire Rescue Chief of Staff Melvin Shepard said, “it’s a very responsible job and you’re putting it in the hands of teenagers.” By the end of July, lifeguards in Gulf Shores had already performed more than 85 rescues in 2022. (Click here to see our full story about the Gulf Shores Lifeguard team.)

In August we honored Silverhill Volunteer Fire Chief Josh Rice. His team nominated him for the award. They told WKRG News 5, Chief Rice is an inspiration to the entire fire department and he regularly goes above and beyond for his community. “Chief Rice will ask you to do something and if you tell him that you don’t know how he’s not one to get mad at you, he’s one to say let me show you,” said Silverhill Volunteer Firefighter Robert Zeagler. (Click here to see our full story about Chief Josh Rice.)

We surprised Daphne Police Officer Jamie Huffman in September. Students nominated her for the positive impact she makes on campus. “Oh, I was extremely surprised. I thought there was something going on in the gym they needed my help with,” said Officer Huffman. (Click here to see our full story on Officer Jamie Huffman.)

We met Georgetown Fellowship Volunteer firefighter Dale Potts in October. He’s been a volunteer firefighter since the 1980s, and isn’t slowing down any time soon. This surprise almost scared away our award winner! Potts said, “Yeah, I thought, I thought something else was going on, and I was up running out the back door, and Justin and Scotty was trying to lock the back door on me, so I was actually trying to run.” (Click here to see our full story on Dale.)

Our last award of the year was given out in November, and our WKRG News 5 Smiles Behind the Shield team went to Bay Minette. The Bay Minette police department turned “No Shave November” into a fundraising competition where school resource officers got pied in the face. It’s all for a good cause. The fundraiser collects money for two of the department’s programs where they give back to kids. (Click here to see our full story on the Bay Minette Police Department.)

Nominate a first responder making a difference in your community. Our WKRG News 5 Smiles Behind the Shield team is looking for first responders who not only save lives but change them in a positive manner. We want to tell the stories of these heroes, and how they inspire people in our community. Fill out a nomination form on the main Smiles Behind the Shield page.