Will Chandler Earns State’s Highest Honor

Benson firefighter and Benson Commissioner Will Chandler was awarded the Order of The Long Leaf Pine, the highest award a citizen in North Carolina can receive. Chandler has spent 40 years on the fire department. Story and photo courtesy The Daily Record

Will Chandler has been serving the people of Benson for a long time. Not only is he an 11-year member of the Benson Town Board, he’s also a longtime member of the Benson Fire Department. For an extended service on the department that has reached 40 years, he got quite an honor. In fact, the highest honor a person can receive from the State Of North Carolina — The Order of The Long Leaf Pine.

“It was a total shock,” he said. “I’m sure there’s people that deserve it more so. There’s a lot of people that do a lot of things in Benson and around. I just think it’s probably the biggest honor that I’ll ever receive.”

Benson Fire Chief Alan Johnson nominated his longtime colleague for the honor. He calls Mr. Chandler one of the most dedicated people he’s been associated with during his tenure on the department.
“I think the Order of The Long Leaf Pine award is a very honorable and prestigious award for someone to receive,” Chief Johnson said. “Will now has over 40 years with the Benson Fire Department as a volunteer. He started with the Four Oaks Fire Department and has been around 42 years total.”

Chief Johnson and his assistant chief, Anthony Byrd, got together and thought nominating Mr. Chandler for the honor was the right thing to do for someone who has spent so much of time in service to his community.

“That’s a long time for anyone to do most anything especially volunteering,” Chief Johnson said. “And for that, Assistant Chief Anthony Byrd and I believed he needed rewarding in an appropriate way for his years of volunteer service to the community for those that live, work and travel through our district that he dearly loves.”

It’s not the first honor for Mr. Chandler. He was named the Benson Citizen of the Year in 2008. Since then he always thought that would be the highest honor he would ever receive.

“I thought when I got Citizen of the Year in 2008, I didn’t think anything could top that,” Mr. Chandler said. “But, this certainly does.”

When the award was presented, Mr. Chandler had no idea what was about to happen. He thought he would simply get maybe a certificate of appreciation and a plaque. He had already received recognition for his years of service to the fire department when the ceremony suddenly continued.

“I had no idea, I thought I was getting a 40-year pin for the fire department,” he recalled. “They said hold on we’ve got something else for you and they pulled out (what) I figured (was) a plaque. I thought they were going to present me with a 40-year plaque.”

It wasn’t a 40-year plaque, that’s for sure.

“They started reading it and it hit me what I was getting,” he said. “The fire chief said it was very seldom where anybody could get me where I couldn’t say anything — I couldn’t.”
Over the course of his time on the department he has served in various capacities. He has been a firefighter, a captain, an assistant chief and for four years he lead the department as its chief. Now he once again serves as a firefighter. A choice he made himself, according to Chief Johnson.

After being presented with the honor, Mr. Chandler said he began hearing from people, not only from Benson, but from other areas to congratulate him.  “I’ve had a lot of people, not only from Benson, but from Raleigh and different places call me and thought it was the highest honor one could receive at the state level,” he said.

Chief Johnson speaks of a recent call to a residence on fire. When Mr. Chandler could’ve just let someone else do the necessary tasks at hand, he didn’t. Instead, the chief says, Mr. Chandler simply shrugged off the words he often speaks about not being as young as he used to be.  “Just the other day on Saturday, Dec. 3, he put on an air pack as he still often does, just as the younger guys do and went into a burning house,” the chief added. “He has been making a difference in the community for over 40 years and is very deserving of this award.”