By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
When you think of honoring firefighters for their deeds, the heroic acts of running into burning buildings to save a crying baby or parachuting into a blazing forest fire come to mind. The men and women of San Diego Fire and Rescue certainly rise to the occasion when these kinds of challenges present themselves, and are given the proper accolades when appropriate. But in addition to bravery and courage in the line of duty, there is another quality that San Diego firefighters are rewarded for: kindness.
On March 23, the San Diego Fire Rescue Foundation (SDFRF) honored the kindness of San Diego firefighters at an event called “Above and Beyond” at the Bahia Hotel in Mission Bay. The luncheon fundraiser and honorees ceremony was emceed by ABC 10 news anchor Kimberly Hunt and featured appearances by San Diego City Council President Myrtle Cole, former City Councilmember and SDFRF vice chair Marti Emerald, and San Diego Fire Rescue Chief Brian Fennessy.
Although the purpose of the event was to honor firefighters and first responders for going that extra mile in serving the public, it was also a chance for Chief Fennessy — who will be leaving the department after 28 years for a job in Orange County — to say farewell to the foundation members who have helped to financially support the Fire Department.
“It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve as a member of this department for as many years as I have,” Fennessy said. “Public safety has always been a top priority for Mayor Faulconer and the City Council. We’re very fortunate to have their strong support and you can imagine there are many competing demands on a limited city budget. This is where the San Diego Fire Rescue Foundation comes in. The foundation has been a great partner.”
Speaking to the nature of the Above & Beyond honors, Fennessy said the public has three expectations from their Fire Department: to respond to emergencies quickly; to be well-trained and know what to do; and to treat people with dignity and respect.
“This sounds like a no-brainer, but trust me when I travel and have conversations with fire chiefs from throughout the U.S., this isn’t always the case. We have something very special here in San Diego,” he said, adding that the awards are for firefighters who “demonstrated acts of kindness above and beyond our expectations.”
The first two honorees were not firefighters or lifeguards. Peter Seidler and Dan Shea are homeless advocates who were instrumental in building the industrial tent shelter. In a video presentation, the two said the hepatitis A outbreak was what “pushed the city into doing it.” The pair also said the program has been a success, taking over 700 homeless off the streets and cutting down on the number of emergency service calls dealing with homeless. The two were not in attendance but were each given an honorary white fire chief’s helmet.
Captain Kieran Maloney, engineer Steve Adler, firefighter-paramedic Justin Loftis, and firefighter Charles Lacey from Mission Valley’s Station 45 were honored for kindness they showed when they responded to a call where woman had taken her own life and then learned she was a police officer.
Lacey suggested getting a flag to honor the officer, and presented it to the police sergeant on the scene. When the medical examiner brought the body out, it was draped in the American flag, which was later given to the family.
“Maybe it seems like a simple thing, but it did mean a great deal to the fellow officers that were there,” Hunt said in her presentation. “It helped on that dark day.”
Capt. David Allen, engineer Arlo Nieto, firefighter-paramedic David Ross, and firefighter James Montgomery of Station 33 in Rancho Bernardo answered a call to help a man who had fallen and was pinned to the floor. The paramedic stabilized him and took him to hospital while the rest of firefighters stayed behind to clean his house.
“The whole level of professionalism and kindness they showed throughout the whole event was just overwhelming,” said a family member of the man in the video presentation.
When a 2-year-old girl got her hand stuck in the door of a truck, Captain Jack Middleton, engineer Jesus Arce, firefighter John Hernandez, and firefighter Isaac Chavez of Station 12 in Lincoln Park not only freed her without major injury, but also made sure she would see firefighters as people who help. Two days after the incident, the firefighters showed up at her door and brought coloring books and toys.
A letter to Chief Fennessy earned firefighter Sierra Brown an Above & Beyond award. Brown had responded to a job site accident where a man fell on the job and died in route to the hospital — it was supposed to be his last job before retirement. A few days after the accident, Brown spoke with the man’s niece and shared with her that her uncle had fought hard.
“She showed the human side to firefighting in my eyes and I will not forget that,” the niece wrote of Brown in her letter to the chief. “If there is a kind and compassionate award the city gives to staff doing more than their job description, Sierra should win.”
Lifeguard chiefs James Gartland and Rick Wurts (ret.), Lt. John Sandmeyer, Lt. Richard Stropkey, and the Frost Family and Beach Cottages were honored for kindness they showed during the search for Taylor Watts, who fell off a pier and was missing for several weeks before his body was found. The lifeguards brought meals to and made personal connections with the Watts family, who flew out form their home in Houston, Texas, and even helped get them discounted hotel rooms while they went through the ordeal.
The San Diego Fire Rescue Foundation was founded 13 years ago with mission to provide equipment, training, technology and community education resources above what the city budget can provide. For more information, visit sdfirerescue.org.
— Reach Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.