Groveland Honors Police and Fire First Responders for Fire Rescue and At-Home Baby Delivery, More

Officer Christopher L’Italien has his Distinguished Service Ribbon pinned to his uniform by his girlfriend. Chief Gillen told Officer L’Italien the ribbon has only been awarded to a Groveland Police officer twice in his entire career. “This isn’t something that’s given out lightly,” Police Chief Jeffrey Gillen said. (Courtesy photograph.)

Additional photographs below.

Groveland Police and Fire Departments recently recognized officers, firefighters and dispatchers Wednesday for extraordinary and lifesaving work.

Awards to firefighters, police and dispatchers were presented in connection with two incidents—the June 8 delivery of a healthy baby at a Groveland home and a fatal June 24 fire at Groveland Manor Apartments.

Honored for their roles at the Groveland Manor Apartments, where two residents were also rescued, were Firefighters Kris Vallone and Robert Hoffman, Officers Christopher L’Italien and Daniel McDonald, Sgt. Christopher Ertsos and dispatchers Cynthia Batista and Kate Pekarski.

“Flames were beginning to engulf the second-story deck where the two occupants were standing. There were no stairs or other means to exit the deck. Without hesitation or concern for his safety, Officer L’Italien somehow crawled up the side of the building to the second-floor deck,” Police Chief Jeffrey Gillen said. He added he next saw L’Italien “wedge his feet into a railing while using one hand to hold on and one to reach around a petition and guide the residents around the deck to the side that wasn’t on fire. This all occurred while several oxygen tanks were exploding next to us.”

Gillen said Ertsos and McDonald also assisted with the rescue, and as Valone and Hoffman stretched a ground ladder to the second-floor deck, but the grandmother on the deck said she couldn’t make it onto the ladder.

“I observed Officer L’Italien jump over the railing, lift her into the air and set her onto the ladder. It was not more than one minute from the time he guided the residents from the vulnerable deck that the final intense explosion and flames rolled over the deck the residents had been standing on,” Gillen said. L’Italien was awarded a Distinguished Service Ribbon, which has only been given to one other officer during Chief Gillen’s career.

Dispatchers Batista and Dispatcher Pekarski were honored for their roles in dispatching resources to the June 24 fire.

On June 8, dispatchers received a 911 call reporting a woman in labor at her home. Sgt. Joshua Sindoni was first on scene and reported a mother with contractions just two minutes apart. Fire Lt. Jennifer Hicks led a team of first responders including Sindoni and Firefighters Dave Evans and Jeff Dalton as they assisted mom and dad, Jaclyn and Jon Benson, with bringing baby Evelyn into the world.

“As a result of your training and dedication to serving others, a situation that could have ended with complications ended with a healthy baby being born,” said Fire Chief Robert Valentine, who presented all four first responders with a stork pin to recognize that they have helped deliver a child.

Fire Capt. Daniel Briscoe was also recognized individually for serving as acting chief from April 27 until May 4, and for distinguishing himself with his leadership during that time. During the week he served, he oversaw three working fires, including a three-alarm fire on Center Street and two other critical incidents.

Sen. Bruce Tarr and Rep. Lenny Mirra presented first responders with citations from the House and Senate.

Gillen and Valentine intend to make the recognition ceremony an annual event.

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