Richard "Rick" Oates greets everyone with a smile and a hug and wears his emotions on the sleeve of his uniform as a volunteer firefighter.
Oates, who also serves as the City of Tonawanda Fire Department chaplain, was recently honored by the fire department with its distinguished service award for exceptional duty. It's the second time he has been recognized by the department with this award. Last year, Oates was named volunteer firefighter of the year by the Exchange Club of the Tonawandas.
He was at the Common Council meeting Tuesday to present the opening prayer and was surprised and visibly moved when Mayor Rick Davis proclaimed April 18, 2017, as "Rick Oates Day" and the Common Council and Erie County Legislator Kevin R. Hardwick, R-City of Tonawanda, also honored him with proclamations. Proclamations in recognition of his service were also issued online by Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and State Sen. Chris L. Jacobs, R-Buffalo.
"You go around here in Tonawanda and everybody knows Rick," Hardwick said. "No one will say a bad word ... He has a calming presence. He's there for everybody. He's just such a great guy."
Oates, 53, the father of seven, called the recognition "profoundly humbling" and took time to recognize his wife, Rhoda, his parents and pastor who had come to the meeting to honor him.
Davis said that Oates had been a volunteer with the fire department since 2007, following his move to the City of Tonawanda in 2005. He said Oates has asked to be assigned to the department's fire/police squad and became a peace officer.
"His obvious devotion and dedication towards helping others drew him to the chaplain corps and he also serves as a first responder," said Davis. "He manages to do all this while serving as a great father to his seven children."
It was noted that Oates also goes beyond the call of duty, organizing the "Red for Jed" blood drive which benefits the scholarship program in memory of Jedediah Woomer.
"Through his actions, compassion and love for our community he has gained the respect and admiration of each and every (resident) of the City of Tonawanda," said Davis.
City of Tonawanda Fire Department Chief Charles Stuart said Oates' caring attitude is "the real thing."
"He's a real caring person," said Stuart. "As a chaplain, he's the kind of guy who, when he hears of something potentially tragic, he calls to offer his service; to come and help counsel, or sit and pray with people. He's willing to drop things at a moment's notice to help somebody out spiritually and emotionally."