It's a York City Fire Department tradition.

A committee of firefighters and the chief sit around a table behind closed doors with the nominations for the annual Firefighter of the Year Award. They debate, and eventually, hopefully, reach a consensus.

"It was kind of easy this year," Chief David Michaels said.

The department's 2013 no-brainer choice is firefighter Ken Sheffer, who retired in April after 28 years with the city.

Sheffer, 58, said he was caught off guard Tuesday as Michaels announced the honor in a room packed for the annual awards ceremony.

"It's humbling," Sheffer said. "I really can't put a lot more words to it."

Sheffer, a skilled electrician, joined the fire department in 1971 at age 17 as a volunteer and became a paid firefighter in 1985. He used his handyman skills to maintain the department's equipment for decades.

"You can't put a dollar figure on what he saved the city," Michaels said.

In his career, Sheffer responded to countless emergencies. But there's one that sticks out.

On March 11, 1988 - a year in which he shared the Firefighter of the Year Award with a colleague - Sheffer rescued a young woman from a burning building.

The call came in at 8:01 a.m.

"I still recall it," Sheffer said.

At the scene, after several failed attempts, Sheffer ran through fire to rescue the woman, about 17 or 18 years old.

Sheffer said he remembers thinking the rescue might have come too late.

"Once we got her out of that area, at that point I didn't think she was going to survive," he said.

Sheffer and the woman suffered serious burns, but both recovered.

"I ran into her just a while back," he said. "It was kind of amazing."

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