Local first-responders honored at annual Valor Awards

They perform CPR. They investigate rape cases. They use kayaks to check on residents during hurricanes and floods. They also write grants and keep up with administrative needs, cover shifts, and go above and beyond their call of duty.

And sometimes they die in the line of duty — trading their life for ours, so we can be safe. They are the men and women of valor.

Each year they are celebrated at the annual Joshua M. Freeman Valor Award luncheon. And, this year, at the ninth edition of the event, held on Feb. 14 at Bear Trap Dunes, 13 local police officers, EMTs and firefighters received recognition for their service to the area as first-responders. The awards ceremony is named for late developer and philanthropist Joshua M. Freeman (1964-2006).

“They are all Valor of the Year winners — Wow!” said Patti Grimes, executive director of both the Joshua M. Freeman and the Carl M. Freeman foundations. “We know Josh is looking down and is humbled by today. You all exemplify everything that he was proud of in Sussex County. On behalf of Michelle,” she said of Freeman’s widow, “I thank you for all that you do.”

The overall Valor Award for 2013 went to Officer Jennifer Kerin of the Fenwick Island Police Department. In nominating her for the award, FIPD Police Chief William Boyden stated that, during Superstorm Sandy, Kerin had “thought outside the box” by using a kayak she had found to check on the nearly 80 residents who had stayed behind during the storm and ended up stranded as the town began to flood.

“I went to the maintenance yard and got these chest-waders, but they were about a size 12, which is twice my size,” Kerin recalled this week, “and they had a hole in them. And I just thought, ‘There’s got to be another way.” She said that, after the storm subsided a bit, she and Officer Paul Kurten were trying to find a better way to check on the people who had stayed behind.

“We were still waiting on the National Guard, and on a lot of resources, and just thought, ‘We’ve got to do something.’”

Asked about her recognition this week, Kerin was modest, saying, “I didn’t expect to be recognized. We just wanted to check up on people. I was speechless. It was totally unexpected.”

Police officers, EMTs and firefighters from other area departments were recognized last Thursday, as well.

The Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company recognized Firefighter/EMT James Bryan Smith, Firefighter/EMT Phillip Brackin and Assistant Chief Tom Moore for their assistance with a cardiac arrest victim.

BBCFC EMS Chief Doug Scott noted that Moore had been the first emergency responder on the scene and had been administering CPR to the victim when Smith and Brackin arrived to help. Moore dedicated his award to his young son, who had been with him when Moore responded to the scene and whom Moore credited with assisting in the successful response to the emergency.

The Millville Volunteer Fire Company honored EMT Brian McConlogue — a firefighter, engineer and rescue diver for their dive team — for years of service and for going above and beyond the call of duty. They also recognized MVFC Capt. R.J. Kauffman for his assistance with successfully dislodging an object from the airway of a 2-year-old choking victim at a local ball park — a child he later realized was his own cousin.

Lest one think being a volunteer firefighter is all glitz and glam and exciting nights of riding in the ambulance and the adrenaline of saving lives, the chicken dinners and writing of grants to raise money for the volunteer organizations is as much a part of their success as anything.

The Frankford Volunteer Fire Company honored Pat Quigley for his work in obtaining more than $250,000 in grant money for the department in just a few short years, including the company’s first federal grant and a grant that enabled them to update and replace all of the company’s air packs.

The Roxana Volunteer Fire Company honored EMT Todd Marvel for 30 years of service for “always rising to the occasion and assisting with classes whenever needed.” Marvel, they noted, had given up his time off on weekends in order to help cover calls when Roxana’s service calls increased by 14 percent last year — a record 850 calls for the year.

They also honored firefighter Wayne Bennett, who has been with the fire company since 1969, doing everything from working chicken dinners to driving the ambulance, always keeping up with training and doing “anything that is asked of him.” He is also active with the Sussex County Firefighter’s Association, the Sussex County Fire Police Association, the Delaware State Fire Police Association and the Delaware Volunteer Firefighter’s Association.

The Selbyville Volunteer Fire Company honored Gunnar Haas, who at age 18 is already a full-fledged volunteer firefighter and EMT, with many hours of firefighter training under his belt, and holds the position of EMS secretary. He also is a volunteer at the Dagsboro Volunteer Fire Company and has dreams of following in his father’s footsteps to become a paramedic.

In addition to the local volunteer firefighters and EMTs, local police were recognized last week, as well.

The Bethany Beach Police Department honored Sgt. Jason Riddle for his work responding to an elderly resident who had realized — after paying out nearly $350,000 in costs to supposedly claim a $3.5 million prize — that she was being scammed.

Eventually, the case led to Riddle assisting agents at an FBI field office in North Carolina in a four-year-old case in which more than $500,000 had been stolen from multiple victims by the same scam-artist. The suspect was tracked down in Costa Rica and is currently pending extradition to the U.S. Some of the money has been recovered.

Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin nominated Cpl. Zachary Spudis for his work serving as the lead investigator in two separate rape cases, in which, he noted, the “the perpetrators were ultimately arrested, convicted and jailed for their crimes.”

And the Selbyville Police Department honored Sgt. Michael Bruette for his work, including a hostage situation involving a known drug-dealer who was armed with a handgun and a large fight in which one of the subjects he apprehended was later identified as being involved in an attempted homicide. Police Chief Scott Collins stated that Bruette has been “able to maintain an extremely high conviction rate and is quick to help his fellow officers.”

Perhaps most poignantly on a day honoring bravery and sacrifice — particularly as many of the men and women recognized are volunteers — the audience at the luncheon paid tribute to Justin Townsend, a 17-year-old junior firefighter with the Dagsboro Volunteer Fire Company who was killed on his way to a fire call last fall. A moment of silence was offered to recognize Townsend’s ultimate sacrifice.