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Fairfield’s Finest, Bravest honored after trying year

The Connecticut Firefighters Pipes and Drums play “Amazing Grace” at the start of Fairfield’s third annual Public Safety Awards Ceremony Tuesday, Oct. 1, at Roger Ludlowe Middle School. (John Kovach Photo)

The Fairfield Fire Department Color Guard presents the colors during the third annual Fairfield Public Safety Awards Tuesday, Oct. 1. (John Kovach Photo)

The Fairfield Fire Department Color Guard presents the colors during the third annual Fairfield Public Safety Awards Tuesday, Oct. 1. (John Kovach Photo)

Police Chief Gary MacNamara explains the acts above and beyond the call of duty spelled out in the program for Fairfield’s third annual ceremony honoring police and firefighters. (John Kovach Photo)

Fire Chief Richard Fellner addresses the third annual Fairfield Public Safety Awards Ceremony at Roger Ludlowe Middle School Tuesday, Oct. 1. (John Kovach Photo)

Police and firefighters were prominent during 2012.

They responded when Hurricane Sandy devastated Fairfield’s coastline; when a madman massacred 20 children, six staff members and his mother at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown; and when a blizzard dumped nearly 40 inches of snow on the area.

Fairfield’s Bravest and Finest worked with their brethren from Bridgeport and surrounding towns when two trains collided during May.

But, as Police Chief Gary MacNamara said, every shift for a police officer begins with a degree of unpredictability, and most of what they do goes unnoticed.

Tuesday night, Oct. 1, Fairfield’s Fire and Police departments, the dispatch center, their families and other government officials gathered to honor their service during a trying year. And as it can any time during any shift, duty called and many of the honorees left the ceremony to attend to the hazardous materials situation on Bronson Road.

Police, firefighters and communications personnel who responded to Sandy Hook, the “superstorm” and the train wreck were all recognized.

Police Capt. Joshua Zabin, Lt. John Bucherati, Lt. Christopher Tursi, Sgt. Felix Esposito, Sgt. Gregory Gunter, Sgt. Christopher Ioli and officers Tiffanie Bennett, William Demotses, Mark Fracassini, Sean Fenton, Michael Guilfoyle, Joseph Kalson, Mark Letsch, James Pauciello, Kevin Wells, Gary Wikman, Jeffrey Wikman received a Unit Citation for their response to the train crash.

The Fire Department Unit of Valor was presented to Asst. Chief Scott Bisson, Asst. Chief Christopher Tracy, Lt. Leroy Corbo, Lt. Jeffrey Edmonson, Lt. Mark Harry, Lt. Darrick Lundeen, Lt. Robert Smith, Lt. Scott Trembley, and firefighters Jonathon Catandella, David Cox, Robert Dominguez, Todd Erikson, Timothy Firla, Joseph Galla, Corey Gripp, Thomas Janik, Thomas Keneally, David Mitkowski, Matthew Pastir, Thomas Pond, Erik Preteska, Joseph Rainis, Elijah Riendeau, Edwin Riggs III, Ronald Vargo and Timothy Ward for their work at the train crash site.

Identical Hurricane Sandy pins were awarded to all fire department, police, communication center staff and animal control personnel who responded to Hurricane Sandy.

Another pin was presented of police officers and communications staff involved in response during and after the Newtown school massacre.

“Officers assisted with many aspects of the incident, from interviewing survivors, assisting with perimeter control and command operations, traffic control for the funerals and volunteering their services to assist Newtown Police cover some of the many events during the weeks that followed,” according to the program.

“No words can express our sympathy to the families of those affected by this event,” the program continued. “It is our hope that the actions of our officers helped in some way, not only for the families but our brothers and sisters in the emergency services who had to respond and deal with the event and its aftermath.”

Six Distinguished Service Medals, were presented for “recognition of an exceptional accomplishment.”

Sgt. Seth Jenkins received a Distinguished Service Medal for disarming an armed suspect inside Athena Diner on March 29, while backup was still some distance away.

Sgt. Frederick Hine and Det. Kerry Dalling each received a Distinguished Service Medal for their work on a case of elder abuse at a health care facility in Fairfield.

Sgt. Antonio Granata, Det. Bravo and Det. Bernard Kelly received Distinguished Service Medals for tracking down thieves who stole more than $4 million in jewelry from Lenox Jewelers on April 11.

Officers Scott Sudora, Matthew Panilaitis and Daniel Victoria were presented Distinguished Service Medals for the quick apprehension of the suspect in an armed holdup at Southport News on Jan. 22.

Det. Beth Irizarry earned a Distinguished Service Medal for her year-long investigation into a sexual assault involving a student at Fairfield Ludlowe High School and a fencing coach. The student did not initially want to pursue the case, but Irizarry continued her investigation. Almost a year later, the student decided to file charges.

Det. Jason Takacs was also honored with the Distinguished Service Medal for his work on a lengthy investigation. The court at first denied a warrant in his investigation into the theft of more than $50,000 from a residence, reported in Feb. 2012. Takacs continued to work the case, and in Jan. 2013, an associate of the suspect approached police with some of the stolen jewelry, resulting in an arrest and recovery of the stolen items.

Five Chief’s Recognition Medals were given by MacNamara.

Det. William Young received such a medal for his work on a high-volume retail theft case. He also earned accolades from the parent company of TJ Maxx and Marshall’s after he helped catch a Weston couple that was taking and re-tagging items from Marshall’s then returning items for cash, resulting in $227,000 in losses. He also cracked two cases in which groups of people were stealing items from The Home Depots in Fairfield and the surrounding area. Merchandise was recovered in all three cases.

Sgt. Edward Weihe and officers Michael Clark, Michael Mazzocchi, Matthew Panilaitis, Michael Stahl and John Tyler received Chiefs Recognition Medals for their work tracking down an armed suspect the evening of June 14, after Tyler received a complaint from an employee at Davita Dialysis alleging that the boyfriend of a friend and co-worker entered the premises with a gun seeking to harm that friend.

Tyler established probable cause for arrest of the suspect, who he determined to be a convicted felon. Tyler also determined three possible Bridgeport locations where the suspect might be found. Weihe assembled a team consisting of Clark, Mazzocchi and Panilaitis, and they entered Bridgeport in search of the suspect. This initial team staked out the first given location for approximately one hour until it was determined that the suspect was not there.

Joined by several Bridgeport officers, Clark and Mazzocchi continued to check the other two locations for two hours until the suspect was apprehended. Officers also recovered ammunition, an assault-style rifle and other weapons. The suspect was charged with second-degree threatening, disorderly conduct, illegal possession of a firearm and carrying a pistol without a permit.

Sgt. Hector Irizarry and officers Lisa Burbige, Michael Clark, Franck DeAngelis and Michael Paris were all awarded the Chief’s Recognition Medal for their response to an armed robbery May 27 at Palamar Park.

“While responding, Sgt. Irizarry did an extraordinary job coordinating multiple responding units, ensuring the safety of his officers and overseeing an investigation that was very complex and included multiple locations,” according to a description of the activities. Officers found three suspects, who were arrested, and located the victim, who confessed that he was in the park making a drug deal.

Officers Jason Kline, Keith Perham, John McGrath and Christopher Rubis were awarded the Chief’s Recognition Medal for their work toward the arrest of six people caught shortly after a car break-in on Philemon Street on March 5.

Perham was awarded another Chief’s Recognition Medal for his work during the spring of 2013, apprehending several suspects in a string of car burglaries around Fairfield.

A Police Unit Citation was presented to Sgt. Frederick Hine, Det. Peter Bravo and Det. Edward Nook for their work on prostitution arrests that shut down a local massage parlor, and netted $16,000 in seized assets for the police.

Lt. Michael Gagner, Sgt. Anotnio Granata, Sgt. Christopher Ioli, Sgt. Hector Irizarry, Det. Peter Bravo, Det. Frederick Caruso, Det. Alex Fucci, Det. Steven Rilling, Det. Jason Takacs, officers Lisa Burbige, Adam Byington, Robert Rindgen, Franck DeAngelis, Benjamin Krygier, Christopher Mastronardi, John McGrath, Charles Ricco, Michael Stahl, Scott Sudora and Kevin Wells, and communications staff members Michael Clark and Lynn Erazmus received a Unit Citation for their response to an armed robbery at Chipotle on July 7, and the subsequent chase and manhunt that spanned two towns and resulted in the arrest of suspects.

The Fire Department Unit Citation of Valor was presented for actions at three serious automobile accidents during the winter.

Asst. Chief Scott Bisson, Lt. Darrick Lundeen, Lt. Brian McHugh, Lt. Michael Sullivan, and firefighters Craig Crosley, Francis Ference, Joseph Galla, Thomas Keneally, John Lakatos, Joseph Rainis, Elijah Riendeau, Edwin Riggs III, Michael Schumann and Ronald Vargo were honored for their actions at the scene of a serious two-car crash in the I-95 Northbound service area on Dec. 1, 2012, at 2:25 a.m.

Asst. Chief George Gomola, Asst. Chief Schuyler Sherwood, Asst. Chief Leonard Waiksnis, Lt. Joseph Buoni, Lt. Roger Caisse, Lt. Brian McHugh, Lt. Joseph Swindon, Lt. Scott Trembley, and firefighters Rich Carlo, Jonathon Catandella, David Cox, Joseph Galla, Corey Gripp, Scott Iannucci, Thomas Janik, Finn MacDaniel, Ronald Petersen, Elijah Riendeau and Timothy Ward received the Unit Citation of Valor for rescuing two people trapped in a car that left the I-95 Northbound off-ramp at Exit 19 and landed in the water Jan. 7 at 12:50 a.m.

Asst. Chief George Gomola, Lt. Dennis Eannotti, and firefighters Eric McKeon, Richard Kazzi, Kevin Polcer, Jeffrey DeNitto, Lawrence Noga, Brian Madia, William Malkin, Tyler Prescott and Francis Zwierlein received a Unit Citation of Valor for their actions after a pedestrian was struck by a vehicle at the intersection of Longfellow and Castle avenues Jan. 27 at 1:33 a.m. Firefighters responded to find the feet and lower legs of a man sticking through the windshield of a Saturn that had struck him, and had to cut the windshield away from his legs to free him.

A program with a full list of honorees can be downloaded here.

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