Firefighter of the Year Award

2020 Winners

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



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

1955 J. Robert Kramer Lewis Tompkins Hose Company #1
1956 Edward Dixon Great Neck Vigilants
1957 William M. Belinson Eggertsville Hose Company
1958 John Patrick Cronin III Tallman Fire Company #1
1959 Dominic C. Zappia Massena Fire Department
1960 Donald Brown West Carthage Fire Department
1961 James Gilliam Lewiston Fire Company #2
1962 Russell Fleischman Washington Engine Company #2
1963 James H. Jackson Andover Fire Department
1964 Donald H. Price Nyack Fire Department
1965 Stephen R. Bucki Harris Hill Fire Company
1966 Gary Elbert Flower Hill Hose Company #1
1967 Gordon O. Schmidt St. Paul Boulevard Fire Association
1968 Jake Parris Patchogue Fire Department
1969 Thomas Nameth Slater Chemical Fire Company
1970 Charles L. Ossont Westmoreland Fire Department
1971 Barry Simmons Rhinebeck Fire Department
1972 Hobart A. Abbey Forest View — Gang Mills Fire Deptartment
1973 Harry Charkow Mattituck Fire Department
1974 John A. Keogh Mattituck Fire Department
1975 John Richard Green Merrick Fire Department
1976 Willard John Hoyt South Schodak Fire Company
1977 Alton L. Lewis Montour Falls Fire Department
1978 George Cannella Islip Terrace Fire Department
1979 Randall R. Rhoades East Syracuse Fire Department
1980 George Jerry Dean Gates — Chili Fire Department
1981 David A. Sedlock Massena Fire Department
1982 David L. Curley Delhi Fire Department
1983 Richard W. Gehrt Smithtown Fire Department
1984 Frederic Furminger Depew Fire Department
1985 Thomas A. Phillips S. W.  Johnson Steam Fire Engine Company
1986 Michael F. Reid Merrick Hook & Ladder Company #1
1987 John L. Hyzer Bainbridge Fire Department
1988 Paul Edward Vinciguerra Lindenhurst Chemical & Salvage Company #2
1989 Robert A. Frank Central Islip Fire Department
1990 Robert Hitchcock Blenheim Fire Department
1991 Charles R. Zigrosser Bayport Fire Department
1992 George P. Motchkavitz Great Neck Alert Engine Company
1993 Robert Pettigrew North Babylon Fire Company
1994 Paul A. MacMurray Hudson Falls Fire Department
1995 Kenneth T. Jones Sayville Hook & Ladder Company #1
1995 William H. Pyne III Sayville Hook & Ladder Company #1
1996 David A. DiDio Bellport Fire Department
1997 Matthew F. Merecka Freeport Fire Department
1998 Larry J. Stumpo North Patchogue Fire Department
1999 James S. Fredericks Mohegan Volunteer Fire Association, Inc.
2000 Mark Sposato Brewerton Fire Department, Inc.
2001 Raymond Valles Ossining Steamer Company #1, Inc.
2001 Donald J. Farrell Cataract Hose Company #2
2001 John Simkins Ossining Fire Department
2001 William H. Brown III Ossining Fire Department
2002 Dedicated to those who died in the Line of Duty 9/11/01
2003 Brian Stevens Manlius Vol. Fire Company, Inc.
2004 John C. Glidden III Huntington Manor Fire Department
2004 Frederick Steenson Jr. Huntington Manor Fire Department
2004 Richard Prudente Huntington Manor Fire Department
2005 Joseph Cirincione Rush Fire Department
2005 Michael Terzo Rush Fire Department
2005 Peter Henry Rush Fire Department
2005 James Bucci Rush Fire Department
2006 Richard J. Gimbl Holbrook Fire Department
2007 Lieutenant Al Cinotti West Islip Fire Department
2008 Lieutenant Edward Kunz Bay Shore Fire Department
2008 Lieutenant John Ippolito Jr. Bay Shore Fire Department
2009 Assistant Chief Timothy R. Ellis North Syracuse Fire Department
2010 Kevin Oatman Verona Fire Department
2010 Aldo Cacciotti Verona Fire Department
2010 Jeff Hugunine Verona Fire Department
2011 Second Assistant Chief Brian J. Lena Mahopac Volunteer Fire Department
2011 Captain William J. “Billy” Bahr Mahopac Volunteer Fire Department
2012 Andrew Kolesar West Haverstraw Fire Department
2013 John Curley Bellmore Fire Department
2014 Thomas J. Gorman Bohemia Fire Department
2015 Frank Crispin Moyers Corners Fire Department
2015 Steve Zaferakis Moyers Corners Fire Department
2015 Phil Vogt Moyers Corners Fire Department
2015 Ryan Whitmore Moyers Corners Fire Department
2015 Jeremy Corsaro Moyers Corners Fire Department
2016 Frederick Kopf Baldwin Fire Department
2017 Timothy Duckham Smithtown Fire Department
2017 Thomas Kriklava Smithtown Fire Department
2017 Patrick Diecidue Smithtown Fire Department
2017 Jennifer O’Brien Smithtown Fire Department
2017 Joseph LaRocco Smithtown Fire Department
2017 John Hansen Smithtown Fire Department
2018 Peter DiPinto, Sr. Brookhaven Fire Department
2019 Jason Bernfeld Melville Fire Department