COLTON, S.D. (KELO) — A retired fire chief in Colton, South Dakota was recently recognized with a prestigious award for his 60 years of service to the department and beyond.

LeRoy Koopman has been a part of Colton Fire & Rescue since 1963 and served as chief of the department for 40 years up until 2018. He was nominated for the Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the National Volunteer Fire Council, or NVFC.

It’s a feat worth recognizing — six decades of service to his community. This past March, Koopman got the call that he had been selected for the national award.

“It was kind of a shock,” Koopman said.

Even though Koopman retired as chief due to some health complications, it doesn’t mean his service is done. We asked him what’s his favorite part of being a firefighter.

“Helping people knowing they need help, and I guess when it’s all over and everybody goes home. I guess that’s the big thing, that everybody goes home,” Koopman said.

Koopman is one of the first people in South Dakota to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award. He was nominated by members of the South Dakota Firefighters Association, whose president, Charlie Kludt, says Koopman’s history made him the perfect pick.

“He’s been in the fire service in our state for a long time, and what he’s done for the state fire service, it was more than deserving. Knowing that some of the past award recipients for the NVFC award were from states or departments that had great big budgets, great big departments, even for volunteers, it was really fitting to see someone from a small town here in South Dakota receive that award,” Kludt said.

This specific one is judged by individuals from all across the country, and Kludt says it’s an outstanding achievement.

“I was just happy to be a small part in the history of LeRoy Koopman’s service in the state of South Dakota,” Kludt said.

Koopman, who also served on the board for the NVFC for 18 years, recently traveled to Washington D.C. to be recognized and accept the award.

“Seeing my old buddies and talking, it was quite the experience,” Koopman said.

Koopman credits his wife even more for being alongside him through everything.

“She deserves it probably more than I do. She had to put up with me. When she was home taking care of kids, I was out training people, going to meetings, things like that,” Koopman said.

Koopman says it was quite a tribute.

“Something you don’t expect. In 100 years, I would have never guess I’d be honored,” Koopman said.

There is only one Lifetime Achievement Award given out by the National Volunteer Fire Council each year.