Firefighter of the Year Award

2020 Winners

Delphi Falls Fire Department, Manlius Fire Department, Cazenovia Fire Department and Pompey Hill Fire Department


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There are some calls in life that a first responder will never forget. This was definitely one of them. The rain started falling in Onondaga County early on June 20, 2019, and waters rose to dangerous levels. Streams became rivers and still water became swift water. In the early evening, Delphi Falls Fire Department was dispatched to a call for a woman who had fallen into Limestone Creek and was now trapped under a bridge. Delphi Falls FD quickly responded. The Chief of the Manlius Fire Department offered its technical rope rescue team to assist with the call.

Upon arrival, Delphi Falls firefighters discovered the most unlikely of scenes: A woman was trapped under the bridge that was almost completely submerged in water. The woman was stuck in one of the many channels of the underside of the bridge and amazingly found a pocket of air.

A woman’s hand appeared through a five-inch pipe coming through the bridge. One of the first firefighters on the scene held the hand, calming the woman. The individual who took on this task was well qualified to do so, as it was the Chaplain of the Pompey Hill Fire Co., one of the mutual aid departments.

Delphi command placed Manlius in charge of the technical aspects of the rescue and continued to summon resources, including a dive team. The closest dive team was from the Cazenovia Fire Department about six miles away.

Upon receiving word that the woman was not able to hold out much longer and seeing no other immediate option, the Manlius Chief attempted a rescue. He tied a rope to his harness which was held secure by other firefighters. The Chief lowered himself over the bridge into the waters and crawled along the side of the bridge. The swift water pounded him against the side of the bridge but he was able to move within two feet of the victim’s location. Unfortunately, despite best efforts, the Chief was swept partially under the bridge by the powerful waters upon reaching a gap in the side of the deteriorated bridge. The firefighters quickly pulled the Chief back to the side of the bridge.

After regrouping, several options were considered. To prepare for the diver who was about 40 minutes away, a “haul team” was deployed about 50 feet across the river with a rope that would be used to pull the rescuer and victim across the river. After a quick review of the plan and rescue procedures, the diver was lowered into the raging waters. The diver immediately was pounded by the water such that his spare regulator was engaged. The diver was guided to the location of the victim with aid of the rope system and set up to submerge.

The team had a difficult time keeping the diver in place and from being swept under the bridge, but the system worked as designed. With zero visibility in the muddy waters, the diver submerged, reached toward the victim who was more than arm’s length under the bridge and found the woman’s waist. After the diver made two tugs on the vertical rope, the Technical Rescue Officer called out for the Chaplain to let go of the woman’s hand. The haul team pulled the diver and woman across the rapid waters to safety.

Cazenovia Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps (CAVAC) treated and transported the woman, who recovered quickly. Despite the miracle of the rescue, the team remained strangely quiet, trying to cope with the events that had transpired.

No one on the incident had any technical-level swift water rescue training. None of the responding departments had any swift water rescue equipment or personnel. This call was as much a tribute to the ingenuity of firefighters as it is to the trust between them.

From the Chief who was held on a rope by two of his brother firefighters to the diver who was relied upon a rope system designed by people he did not know and with whom he had never worked, everyone came together for their sole purpose: save a life.

Adapted from a nomination by Manlius Fire Department Past Chief Bradley M. Pinsky

2020 Firefighter of the Year Sponsored by:


Past Award Recipients

1955J. Robert KramerLewis Tompkins Hose Company #1
1956Edward DixonGreat Neck Vigilants
1957William M. BelinsonEggertsville Hose Company
1958John Patrick Cronin IIITallman Fire Company #1
1959Dominic C. ZappiaMassena Fire Department
1960Donald BrownWest Carthage Fire Department
1961James GilliamLewiston Fire Company #2
1962Russell FleischmanWashington Engine Company #2
1963James H. JacksonAndover Fire Department
1964Donald H. PriceNyack Fire Department
1965Stephen R. BuckiHarris Hill Fire Company
1966Gary ElbertFlower Hill Hose Company #1
1967Gordon O. SchmidtSt. Paul Boulevard Fire Association
1968Jake ParrisPatchogue Fire Department
1969Thomas NamethSlater Chemical Fire Company
1970Charles L. OssontWestmoreland Fire Department
1971Barry SimmonsRhinebeck Fire Department
1972Hobart A. AbbeyForest View — Gang Mills Fire Deptartment
1973Harry CharkowMattituck Fire Department
1974John A. KeoghMattituck Fire Department
1975John Richard GreenMerrick Fire Department
1976Willard John HoytSouth Schodak Fire Company
1977Alton L. LewisMontour Falls Fire Department
1978George CannellaIslip Terrace Fire Department
1979Randall R. RhoadesEast Syracuse Fire Department
1980George Jerry DeanGates — Chili Fire Department
1981David A. SedlockMassena Fire Department
1982David L. CurleyDelhi Fire Department
1983Richard W. GehrtSmithtown Fire Department
1984Frederic FurmingerDepew Fire Department
1985Thomas A. PhillipsS. W.  Johnson Steam Fire Engine Company
1986Michael F. ReidMerrick Hook & Ladder Company #1
1987John L. HyzerBainbridge Fire Department
1988Paul Edward VinciguerraLindenhurst Chemical & Salvage Company #2
1989Robert A. FrankCentral Islip Fire Department
1990Robert HitchcockBlenheim Fire Department
1991Charles R. ZigrosserBayport Fire Department
1992George P. MotchkavitzGreat Neck Alert Engine Company
1993Robert PettigrewNorth Babylon Fire Company
1994Paul A. MacMurrayHudson Falls Fire Department
1995Kenneth T. JonesSayville Hook & Ladder Company #1
1995William H. Pyne IIISayville Hook & Ladder Company #1
1996David A. DiDioBellport Fire Department
1997Matthew F. MereckaFreeport Fire Department
1998Larry J. StumpoNorth Patchogue Fire Department
1999James S. FredericksMohegan Volunteer Fire Association, Inc.
2000Mark SposatoBrewerton Fire Department, Inc.
2001Raymond VallesOssining Steamer Company #1, Inc.
2001Donald J. FarrellCataract Hose Company #2
2001John SimkinsOssining Fire Department
2001William H. Brown IIIOssining Fire Department
2002Dedicated to those who died in the Line of Duty 9/11/01
2003Brian StevensManlius Vol. Fire Company, Inc.
2004John C. Glidden IIIHuntington Manor Fire Department
2004Frederick Steenson Jr.Huntington Manor Fire Department
2004Richard PrudenteHuntington Manor Fire Department
2005Joseph CirincioneRush Fire Department
2005Michael TerzoRush Fire Department
2005Peter HenryRush Fire Department
2005James BucciRush Fire Department
2006Richard J. GimblHolbrook Fire Department
2007Lieutenant Al CinottiWest Islip Fire Department
2008Lieutenant Edward KunzBay Shore Fire Department
2008Lieutenant John Ippolito Jr.Bay Shore Fire Department
2009Assistant Chief Timothy R. EllisNorth Syracuse Fire Department
2010Kevin OatmanVerona Fire Department
2010Aldo CacciottiVerona Fire Department
2010Jeff HugunineVerona Fire Department
2011Second Assistant Chief Brian J. LenaMahopac Volunteer Fire Department
2011Captain William J. “Billy” BahrMahopac Volunteer Fire Department
2012Andrew KolesarWest Haverstraw Fire Department
2013John CurleyBellmore Fire Department
2014Thomas J. GormanBohemia Fire Department
2015Frank CrispinMoyers Corners Fire Department
2015Steve ZaferakisMoyers Corners Fire Department
2015Phil VogtMoyers Corners Fire Department
2015Ryan WhitmoreMoyers Corners Fire Department
2015Jeremy CorsaroMoyers Corners Fire Department
2016Frederick KopfBaldwin Fire Department
2017Timothy DuckhamSmithtown Fire Department
2017Thomas KriklavaSmithtown Fire Department
2017Patrick DiecidueSmithtown Fire Department
2017Jennifer O’BrienSmithtown Fire Department
2017Joseph LaRoccoSmithtown Fire Department
2017John HansenSmithtown Fire Department
2018Peter DiPinto, Sr.Brookhaven Fire Department
2019Jason BernfeldMelville Fire Department