Department's first Medal Day honors those who serve and those who help.
The Longboat Key Fire Department said thank you last week.
Thank you to the civilians who supported the department in the past year.
Thank you to town staffers and colleagues from other areas who helped the department’s first responders focus as much as possible on their true mission.
And thank you to the officers, commanders, firefighters who do the job every day.
Standing in Town Hall on Thursday, Nov. 7, Fire Chief Paul Dezzi heaped praise on everyone from Kathy Podolski, whose Grand Bay Association donated the use of condo facilities for fire department meetings and retreats, to Firefighter of the Year Chase Opela.
Along the way, four groups of firefighters received pins emblematic of the department’s Phoenix Award, for saving the lives of patients in such critical situations as cardiac arrest.
The Medal Day ceremony, which the department aims to make an annual event, replaces a series of individual ceremonies scattered throughout the year.
“This is great. I mean it really is, because you’re recognizing not only the citizens and the other employees but also the firefighters,’’ Dezzi said afterward. “I mean they did a great job. And sometimes you forget about that.’’
Dezzi wasn’t the only one handing out tokens of appreciation.
James McLean had gifts to present to firefighters Ron Koper, Jeff Bullock, William Lewis, Jamison Urch, department medical director Dr. Mike Johnson, and Dezzi himself.
Those firefighters from Station 92 were called to the Moorings on April 3 on a report of a cardiac arrest and arrived to learn that McLean, 64, had fallen into the water from a docked boat. After getting McLean out of the water, the team began CPR and other advanced life-support interventions designed to restart his heart. By the time he was put in the ambulance for the run to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, a pulse had been re-established and he was showing signs of breathing on his own.
“This incident was truly a textbook case in that the links of the chain to survival were achieved,’’ said Dezzi, who was first on the scene and began CPR.
As McLean pinned the medals on each of the firefighters present, he said simply: “Thank you very much.’’
The other Phoenix Award recipients were: Deputy Chief Sandi Drake, Lt. Daniel Heath, Lt. Alan Jenkins, Lt. Brandon Desch and firefighter/paramedics Try Bowlin, Tirso Guerrero, Missina Cutting, Josh Falcon, Matt Taylor, William Lewis, Brian Kolesa and Jay Gosnell.
Dezzi also awarded fire department badges to three new firefighters, Nick Jaynes, Trey Bowlin and Josh Moss. Hunter, a golden retriever owned by Drake, also received a badge as the department’s certified therapy dog working with members on PTSD issues.
Fire Marshal Jane Herrin received the 2019 Chief’s Award; Chase Opela was named 2019 Firefighter of the Year and Drake was named 2019 Officer of the Year Award.
"We wanted to mention the people who really made a difference this past year," Dezzi said. "And I think we did that."