If there was a theme for the annual American Legion safety awards in Ilwaco this year it would be “unsung heroes.”
The 10 individuals from law enforcement, fire/rescue and the U.S. Coast Guard honored for their service all perform their important jobs without fanfare.
Guests were welcomed at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum in Ilwaco by Don R. Grable Post No. 48 commander Terry Bryan as five individuals from Peninsula fire departments and rescue groups were honored at the 30th annual Derald D. Robertson Safety Awards ceremony.
Pacific County Fire District No. 1 named mechanic Tom Hersey as Firefighter of the Year. His chief, Jacob Brundage, commended Hersey for his expertise in keeping millions of dollars worth of equipment maintained and ready for emergencies.
“He performs complex repairs and performs preventative maintenance on everything from hydraulics on our ladder truck to the complex electrical and computer systems on an ambulance,” the chief said, noting that Hersey diligently stays up-to-date on technical changes. “As a result of his dedication to his trade, the district has the ability to deploy and maintain quality equipment without out-of-service times or costly repairs.”
Long Beach Fire Department’s Firefighter of the Year nominee was a familiar name — who wasn’t previously considered eligible to win because he served as its chief. David Glasson is a 28-year veteran of the department, and has served in leadership positions for a significant portion of those years.
Chief Matt Bonney, who accepted the award on his colleague’s behalf, said Glasson continues to promote and serve the department and is among the top five personnel regularly responding to calls and attending drills. Additionally, his grant-writing skills and financial management expertise have greatly assisted improved the department’s equipment. “He never once gave anyone any reason to question his commitment to the protection of the citizens of Long Beach and their property, nor his dedication to the fire department and its membership,” Bonney added.
Branden Nagy was named Long Beach Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Technician of the year. He joined the department in 2005 and became certified as an EMT a year later. He works at Medix Ambulance — yet still serves as an EMT for the department on his days off. Bonney said Nagy has contributed greatly to the department’s goal of moving toward 24-hour coverage during the summer, as well as mentoring newer first responders who want to train to become EMTs.
Ilwaco Fire Department’s Firefighter of the Year is Matt Lessnau. Chief Thomas R. Williams noted that Lessnau started his career of service as a high school junior firefighter in Chinook, went away to college then worked in Seattle before returning to the Peninsula. He joined the Ilwaco department last year and earned credentials as a firefighter and EMT. He also serves on the Ilwaco City Council. “His enthusiasm in making Ilwaco a better place has not gone unnoticed,” said Williams.
Linda Stark was honored as Rescue Specialist of the Year. Doug Knutzen, president of South Pacific County Technical Rescue Team, said the retired educator promotes beach and ocean safety among people of all ages, while helping train the agency’s rescue swimmers. “Linda has never met a stranger, and she can be seen around town always lending a helping hand and volunteering at many community events,” he said. “Linda’s dedication and service to this community is commendable. She demonstrates the importance of saving lives through education.”
Three serve and protect
Three law enforcement agencies which serve the Peninsula nominated their finest, also.
Deputy Randy Wiegardt was selected by the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office for recognition as Deputy of the Year, for this work as a patrol deputy and K-9 handler. Sheriff Scott Johnson said he believes Wiegardt has a bright future ahead in law enforcement. “His willingness to help his fellow deputies goes above and beyond the ordinary,” the sheriff said, noting that other agencies appreciate a positive rapport, too. Wiegardt has been appointed as a field training officer, training and evaluating newcomers to the department.
Trooper Jeffrey A. Street from the Naselle Detachment of the Washington State Patrol was named Trooper of the Year. Street has spent the majority of his 10-year career patrolling Pacific and Wahkiakum counties. Sgt. Bradford A. Moon nominated him for his work as a patrol officer, investigator and driving instructor. “Trooper Street’s humble and pleasant demeanor makes his easy to relate to and a pleasure to know,” he added. “He also has a tremendous personality that is appreciated by citizens as well as his fellow crew members.”
Flint R. Wright, chief of police in Long Beach, nominated Officer Rodney J. Nawn as Police Officer of the Year. “Officer Nawn is perhaps the best patrol officer I have ever seen in my 30 years of law enforcement,” his chief said.
Nawn joined the department on 2013, and despite being assigned as a patrol officer rather than a detective, made 23 drug arrests last year and 20 this year. “He has done this by developing informants to make buys, using traffic arrests to develop probable cause for search warrants for drugs and a lot of plain old hard work.
“He was responsible for taking down down real bad guys in both Ilwaco and Long Beach over the last year. These were suspects that everyone in law enforcement had been unable to get to. ... These arrests dramatically improved the quality of life for honest citizens in both communities.”
Nawn has recently moved to join the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office so his award was accepted on his behalf by a colleague, Officer Casey Meling.
Coast Guard honors two
Two Coast Guard personnel were honored. Boatswain First Class Todd M. Ghormley was named Cape Disappointment Enlisted Person of the Year, and the award accepted by his wife, Kara. Todd Ghormley was commended by his commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Thomas M. Condit, for his “outstanding motivation, drive and positive attitude” at Cape Disappointment, the largest Surf and Level 1 Ports, Waterways, Coastal Security unit in the Coast Guard.
“As the unit’s training petty officer, he was directly responsible for the training of over 80 qualifications, including motor lifeboat coxswains, crew members, engineers and watch standers to successfully operate on one of the world’s most hazardous river bars,” Condit said. He noted that as well as coordinating a multi-agency mass casualty exercise that strengthened partnerships in the rescue community, Ghormley helped save the three-person crew of the Ironclad, a fishing vessel that was taking on water in 10-foot seas, and towed it to Ilwaco.
Honored as Sector Columbia River Enlisted Person of the Year was Petty Officer Jami Gardner for her work in the sector’s Logistics Department-Housing Division. Command Master Chief Karl G. Keyes said Gardner is outstanding in her job while additionally working on morale, organizing picnics and family events. “Permanent changes of station orders are stressful on Coast Guard members and their families, and finding housing is always primary concern for these families,” Keyes said. “Petty Officer Gardner’s professionalism and genuine concern for her shipmates’ well being greatly reduces this stress.”
Speakers commend post
Guest speakers commended Post 48 for the excellent attendance for the event, which is in its 30th year. The event was dreamed up in 1988 by then commander, Derald Robertson, and spearheaded for many years by Harry Easley. Both served significant local and state leadership roles in the Legion; Robertson died in 1995, Easley in 2008, the year Wallace took over the program.
Gary Roach, Washington state commander of the American Legion from Chewelah, described the post’s three decades of honoring law and order personnel as “amazing.” “A lot of programs like this do not last this long,” the Navy veteran said, adding his thanks for the post’s work assisting Peninsula vets.
This comments echoed those of Paula Stephenson, the Legion’s national vice commander from Utah, whose western region includes Ilwaco. She commended the post for including families at the event and praised its year-round work for veterans. “You are doing a great job,” said Stephenson, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel. “This is what the Legion does — we work for our families and our communities.”
Guests also included Ken Lee of Oroville, national executive committee member from Washington, and Pacific County Commissioner Lisa Olson, who presented the thanks of the county to all the honorees. Entertainment was provided by the Ilwaco High School jazz band.
‘He was responsible for taking down real bad guys in both Ilwaco and Long Beach over the last year.’
— Flint R. Wright
Long Beach police chief describing Officer Rodney J. Nawn