Police Chief Jeffrey Gillen and Fire Chief Robert Valentine are proud to share that the Groveland Police and Fire Departments recognized officers, firefighters and dispatchers Wednesday for extraordinary and lifesaving work.
Awards to firefighters, police and dispatchers were presented in connection with two incidents, the June 8 delivery of a healthy baby at a home in Groveland, and a fatal June 24 fire at the Groveland Manor Apartments.
The award ceremony, which began with a moment of silence for the man lost in the June 24 fire, was the first in what Chief Gillen and Chief Valentine hope to make an annual event.
Honored for their roles in the June 24 response to a fatal fire at the Groveland Manor Apartments in which two residents were rescued, were: Firefighter Kris Vallone, Firefighter Robert Hoffman, Officer Christopher L’Italien, Sgt. Christopher Ertsos, Officer Daniel McDonald, Dispatcher Cynthia Batista, and Dispatcher Kate Pekarski.
Chief Gillen personally detailed the response of Officer L’Italien, because he was on scene and witnessed the officer working with colleagues to save two residents as the fire quickly spread.
“Flames were beginning to engulf the second-story deck where the two occupants were standing. There were no stairs or other means to exit the deck. Without hesitation or concern for his safety, Officer L’Italien somehow crawled up the side of the building to the second floor deck,” Chief Gillen said. “Next, I observed Officer L’Italien wedge his feet into a railing while using one hand to hold on and one to reach around a petition and guide the residents around the deck to the side that wasn’t on fire. This all occurred while several oxygen tanks were exploding next to us.”
Chief Gillen said that Sgt. Ertsos and Officer McDonald also assisted with the rescue, and that as Firefighters Valone and Hoffman stretched a ground ladder to the second floor deck, the grandmother on the deck said she couldn’t make it onto the ladder.
“I observed Officer L’Italien jump over the railing, lift her into the air, and set her onto the ladder. It was not more than one minute from the time he guided the residents from the vulnerable deck that the final intense explosion and flames rolled over the deck the residents had been standing on,” Chief Gillen said. “What I observed Officer L’Italien do that day was nothing less than incredible.”
L’Italien was awarded a Distinguished Service Ribbon, which has only been given to one other officer during Chief Gillen’s career.
“None of these guys even jumped back from the explosions,” Chief Gillen said. “They just kept going forward.”
Fire Capt. Daniel Briscoe was recognized individually for serving as Acting Chief from April 27 until May 4, and for distinguishing himself with his leadership during that time.
In the week that Capt. Brisco served as Acting Chief, he oversaw three working fires, including a three-alarm fire on Center Street, as well as two other critical incidents.
“Capt. Briscoe found himself in command of several rapidly escalating and deadly serious incidents and fires during his time serving as Acting Chief, and he distinguished himself with his quick decision making, leadership, and command of our teams,” said Chief Valentine. “I am pleased and proud to recognize the work he did when his community and department needed him most.”
Dispatcher Batista and Dispatcher Pekarski were honored for their roles in dispatching resources to the June 24 fire. Dispatcher Batista was scheduled to go off duty as Dispatcher Pekarski arrived at work, but instead she remained to help with the incident.
Chief Valentine and Chief Gillen said both dispatchers remained focused, calm, and dedicated to their duties thanks to their training and experience, which is what ensured that all of the necessary resources were properly and quickly brought to the fire scene.
“Dispatchers are known to be a lifeline to first responders, but in this instance you made a difference by participating in saving the life of two citizens,” Chief Gillen said.
“While firefighters and police officers and EMTs do their jobs, every phone call and every emergency goes through dispatch,” said Chief Valentine. “They are the busiest first responders in the country, and they seem to be the most under appreciated. If the water is dirty, they take the calls. If the power goes out, they take the calls. If there’s a fire, they take the calls.
“You went above and beyond the call of duty that day.”
Honored for their roles in the June 8 baby delivery were: Police Sgt. Joshua Sindoni and Fire Lt. Jennifer Hicks, Lt. Dave Evans and Firefighter Jeff Dalton.
On June 8, at approximately 4 p.m., dispatchers received a 911 call reporting a woman in labor at her home. Sgt. Sindoni was first on scene and reported a mother with contractions just two minutes apart was consulting with her doctor. The doctor determined the mother would have to prepare to give birth at home. Fire Lt. Jennifer Hicks led a team of first responders including Sindoni and Firefighters Dave Evans and Jeff Dalton as they assisted mom and dad with bringing baby Evelyn into the world.
“As a result of your training and dedication to serving others, a situation that could have ended with complications ended with a healthy baby being born,” said Chief Valentine, who presented all four first responders with a stork pin to recognize that they have helped deliver a child.
Baby Evelyn and her parents, Jon and Jaclyn Benson, attended the ceremony and were able to visit with the first responders and pose for photos together.
“I am proud to recognize the individuals whose actions saved lives, prevented injury, and did honor to the Groveland Police and Fire Departments,” said Chief Gillen. “But I would also like to remind everyone that none of these actions could have been performed without a fully functioning team in which each individual fulfills their role. We are lucky to have such a dedicated and focused team here in Groveland.”
“Everyone in this public safety division in this town should be proud of themselves,” said Chief Valentine.
Sen. Bruce Tarr and Rep. Lenny Mirra both spoke and presented first responders with citations from the House and Senate in addition to their awards from their departments.
“I want to say how appreciative I am to both chiefs for taking time to create an opportunity for all of us to remember and think about how fortunate we are to have all of the first responders in this community,” said Sen. Tarr. “This is a time to think about a fact that too often we take for granted: that 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, there are people in our police and fire departments and dispatch desks who are prepared to respond to whatever it is that arises in our lives that demands emergency response. And sometimes those things may be routine, but sometimes they are not.”