ILWACO - With boundless praise and honest emotion, seven local members of the safety community were honored by the American Legion Post No. 48 in Ilwaco Thursday night during the 15th annual Derald R. Robertson Safety Awards.
In 1987 the Safety Awards were created as a way to give praise for the sometimes thankless job by members of local police and fire departments.
"About 16 years ago we had a man here named Derald Robertson and I joined the post about that time," says Harry Easley, who is the coordinator and master of ceremonies for the yearly event, "And he knew I was a retired police officer that spent 31 years as a police officer, and he asked me if I would set up a law and order program. I told him I would, and we've been doing it ever since."
Over the years the awards have expanded to include members of the sheriff's office, EMTs, Washington State Troopers and the Coast Guard, making a total of seven people awarded each year.
This year's winners include; Wayne Corley, Auxiliary Police Officer, Long Beach Police, Inspector Stephen Sultemeier, Jail Inspector, Pacific County Sheriffs, Trooper Shane Madsen, Washington State Troopers, Petty Officer BM2 Beth Rasmussen, Coast Guard, Cape Disappointment, Ralph Gilbert, Auxiliary Coast Guardsman, Cape Disappointment, Brad Weatherby, Firefighter/EMT, Pacific County Fire District No. 1, and Les Colvin, Emergency Medical Technician, Pacific County Fire District No. 2.
The Observer will have details on safety award winners next week, along with a report on the Red Cross 2002 Heroes Banquet held in South Bend Saturday.
As the awards ceremony began, Mike Montaney, American Legion Department of Washington commander, addressed the crowd with opening remarks that were both humorous and heart-felt.
"Harry [Easley] asked me to speak tonight. I asked him what he thought I should talk about? Needless to say he gave me lots of guidance," said Montaney. "He told me I should talk about police officers, fire fighters and coast guardsmen-That wasn't much help."
"So what's the big deal?" Montaney asked the crowd, most of which still eating cake following the dinner that preceded the event. "For the most part, they're hard working public servants, and when they do something special they should be recognized. I feel there's much more to it than that. Its about respect.
The bottom line is that the general public has no idea of who you are, what you do, or why you do it. Sept. 11 gave them some insight, but it shouldn't have taken a terrorist attack for the public to see the light."
Montaney went on to close his speech, "We of the American Legion are here to ensure you get that respect that you so richly deserve. Ladies and gentle men, I salute you and thank you for your service. And I assure you, that as long as there is an American Legion, you will be recognized for your contribution to the American way of life."
The honorees were then brought forward to receive awards from the various V.I.P.s in attendance, including state Rep. Brian Hatfield, state Sen. Sid Snider, County Commissioner Pat Hamilton, plus representatives for U.S. Rep. Brian Baird and state Rep. Mark Doumit, who could not attend.
The first group to be honored were those of the law enforcement community: Wayne Corley, Stephen Sultemeier, and Shane Madsen.
Auxiliary Police Officer Corley was given the award for his efforts that have freed up sworn officers to spend more time on the street. Some of his duties have included, patrolling the beaches during the summer, conducting community surveys, checking schools at night, moving supplies to patrol cars, providing clerical support, and performing needed and necessary duties.
In a statement written by Chief Sexton of the long Beach Police, he wrote of Corley, "In this era of decreasing resources, if it were not for Wayne, and others like him, we would certainly be losing the battle."
Inspector Stephen Sultemeier was honored for his dedication to duty, work ethic and keen appreciation to detail which has resulted in the corrections division of Pacific County assuming a state wide leadership role for small jails. He has instituted policies that have enhanced the safety of citizens, staff and inmates by professionalizing the daily operation of the jail facility.
Upon receiving his award, Sultemeier said, "Well, if I said nothing it would probably be a shock to everybody that knows me. A year ago October I was asked to come here by the sheriff's and its probably been one of the best things I've ever done."
Trooper Shane Madsen was honored for his outstanding work in traffic enforcement. He works to keep local highways safe and he maintains a positive relationship with other law enforcement agencies in the community.
County Commissioner Pat Hamilton spoke of Trooper Madsen, "What makes our community so special, are the partnerships we develop. We couldn't make things happen like we do without our partners with the Washington State Patrol. They augment our local city police, they help us with the Sheriffs Department and it is my honor to give this award to Trooper Shane Madsen for his outstanding work performance in strengthening the law enforcement presence and keeping Pacific County safe."
Next to be honored were the two representatives of the Coast Guard station Cape Disappointment, Petty Officer Beth Rasmussen and Auxiliary Coast Guardsman Ralph Gilbert.
Petty Officer Rasmussen had possibly the most harrowing credentials of all those honored this year. In July 2002, a charter boat was on fire between buoy 1 and 3. Do to her quick response, superb judgment, and extraordinary boat handling skills, sixteen people were successfully rescued from the burning boat And in Sept. 2002, she and another Surfman were working the beach patrol for the city of Long Beach and received a call of a fishing vessel capsized off Peacock Spit. She and her partner swam to the overturned vessel and found that someone was trapped inside. They proceeded to cut the steel hull of the vessel and release the lone survivor. All of this was accomplished while they were being pounded by 8-foot surf. Rasmussen is also the first female Surfman certified at the Cape Disappointment station.
A representative of Mark Doumit read a statement he had written about Rasmussen, "This is an achievement in which you can take great pride. As your state representative, I commend you for excellent leadership qualities, your efforts and accomplishments. They are certainly an example and credit to all of us."
Auxiliary Coast Guardsman of the Year Ralph Gilbert was the Vice Commander for Flotilla 62 from Jan. 1998 until May 2001. During that time he completed 97 patrols, for a total of 1,765 hours on the rig. He handled 78 search and rescue missions, resulting in ten lives being saved and 720 people being assisted.
Rep. Hatfield spoke to Gilbert, "I just want to thank you personally for saving lives here on the coast and the Columbia [river], and also saving taxpayer dollars as well. You deserve recognition for this invaluable service you provide."
The final group to be honored Thursday night were those of the firefighters and EMT's, Brad Weatherby and Les Colvin.
Prior to handing out an award, Sen. Snider told a story about how his daughter was saved from drowning by a local EMT when she was an 8-year-old child.
"She actually drowned and you brought her back," said Snider fighting back tears, "And so the firemen have always had a special place in my heart for that one incident alone."
Since joining Fire District No. 1 as a volunteer in 1999, Weatherby has continually strive to improve himself as an emergency responder. He is not only a qualified firefighter, but has passed the exam given by the state of Washington Department of Health and is a certified Emergency Medical Technician. Weatherby has recently enrolled in a paramedics course which requires him to travel and be away from home several days a week. For the past two years Weatherby has been one of the top responders for the district, responding to 200 and 184 calls respectively.
Dena Horton, a representative of Brian Baird, read a letter written by the absent Congressman addressed to Weatherby, "I know part of the effort that goes into your training," says Baird, "I have a son that's a paramedic/firefighter in Raymond, and I know that it takes a lot of extra time and energy to pass that training, and that you have to do it at a very high level in order to get your certification. You make a lot of difference to people when you're in need."
EMT of the Year Les Colvin joined Fire District No. 2 three years ago. Colvin has spent several hours in training to become a qualified EMT. He attends all training meetings, upgrading skills, and bringing back to the district the information the other personnel need top help at the scene of medical emergencies. Colvin also works very well with the elderly and responds to many calls during the night within the district.
Hatfield spoke to Colvin, saying, "It gives me great pleasure, knowing that you have given your constant commitment to do your very best. You have made such a positive contribution to the lives of so many citizens in your community."
Earlier in the evening, the American Legion Post participated in a special ceremony honoring POW/MIAs. The ceremony included a lone table set up with items bearing symbolic meaning.
An inverted wine glass, because he can not drink from it. A lemon on a plate, to represent the bitterness. Salt on the plate, for the tears that have been cried for him. A rose, in remembrance of him. The American flag, to signify that the U.S. is still behind him. And a candle, left burning, so that we do not forget.
"I think they're great." said Easley about this years crop of honorees. "We have some great people, we've always had great people. And I think that when you look at the fact that they do the job that they do on a day to day basis, each and every one of them should be honored with this award. What we're getting is just the best of the bunch each year."