BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Since 2011, Bay County Chamber of Commerce members have taken the opportunity to thank first responders and recognize those who’ve gone above and beyond. The annual luncheon always takes place around National First Responders Day, which is Saturday.

No matter the day or time, Bay County first responders are ready to save lives.

“They have been slammed over the past five years, with Hurricane Michael, with COVID, with the beach drownings, all of that combined it takes a toll on you and really, we just need to pause and say thank you and really lift them,” Bay County Chamber of Commerce Vice President of events Elizabeth Smith said.

Florida’s State Fire Marshal and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis was a keynote speaker this year.

“Suicide it happens in a higher multiple amongst our first responders than it does with everyday citizens, cancer happens multiple times higher for our firefighters than it does for everyday citizens so we’re constantly leaning forward with legislation to make sure they know that they’ve always got our backs and that Tallahassee’s not forgetting them, that we’ve got their backs,” Patronis said.

This year, all agencies that patrol local beaches received the First Responder of the Year award. The Bay County Sheriff’s Surf Rescue Unit, Panama City Beach Safety Division, Bay County Parks and Recreation Lifeguards, and Bay County Fire Rescue combined to make more than 200 water rescues.

“We do a lot of work, we’re out there day in, day out, a lot of us working a bunch of overtime out there trying to keep people on our beaches safe it’s a great honor to get this and be recognized by Bay County for the hard work that we put in,” Bay County Parks and Recreation Lifeguard Logan Gerber said.

Local first responders from all over Bay County attended the luncheon along with community and business leaders.