Hometown honors heroes

PUHI — Kauai Fire Captain John Blalock said the firemen go out because it is their jobs.

“We’re on small little Kauai,” Blalock said. “We didn’t even know about this Benjamin Franklin Fire Service Award for Valor. In 2010, we went out to rescue the victims of a downed ultra-light with no training, and no dedicated helicopter. But we went because it is our job.”

Rescue Captain Charles Metivier, Fire Captain Kalani Abreu, Fire Operator Francisco Garcia and Rescue Specialist Roy Constantino made up the team which not only rescued the two victims of the downed ultra-light, but a missing hunter as well in unfavorable weather conditions and unforgiving terrain in Hanapepe Valley on Aug. 1, 2009. Ken D’attilio, the pilot of Rescue-3 helicopter, also earned the award.

“It started out as one mission,” Constantino said. “Then, it became two missions, and finally back to a single mission.”

The team was honored as recipients of the valor award for 2010.

They were joined by Rescue Captain Gordon Tamura, Fire Operator Bryan Doo, Rescue Specialist Aaron Hawthorne, Rescue Specialist Adam Hussey, and Air-1 pilot Clifton Cates who were recipients of the valor award for 2014.

The awards were previously presented — the 2010 awards being presented in Chicago, and the 2014 awards being handed out in Dallas, Texas.

But on Thursday, representatives from Motorola Solutions, including vice president Travis Boettcher, joined Kauai Fire Chief Robert Westerman and Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. in honoring the recipients before the firefighters’ families and community, many of whom could not attend the original presentations.

“The Award for Valor is the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ most prestigious award and is presented annually to firefighters who demonstrate excellence in their training, professional service and dedication to their life-saving duties,” Westerman said. “The Kauai Fire Department is one of only two fire departments in the nation that have been selected to receive this esteemed honor more than once. I am proud of the Kauai Fire Department, and for each of the firefighters for their work.”

Boettcher pointed out that Benjamin Franklin was the first fire chief — not a widely known fact — and the fire service award for valor is one of the most prestigious award a fire department can earn, as the selections are voted on by fire chiefs from all over.

In addition to awards received previously, Motorola Solutions added a commemorative certificate as well as a personalized APEX 7000XE radio, which Boettcher described as being top of the line.

Westerman, in recognition of his leadership of the department, was also presented with the same radio.

The 2014 honor stemmed from a nomination by one of the 121 hikers firefighters rescued during a two-day operation in the Kalalau Valley and rain-swollen Hanakapiai Stream on April 6, 2014.

During the rescue in which a father, daughter and son were swept down the raging stream from a flash flood, the rescuers discovered the other stranded hikers. Following an overnight stay with the stranded hikers, everyone was taken out safely.

Blalock said the department has come a long way from the days of no training and no dedicated helicopter, attributing the growth and programs to Westerman’s vision.

“I appreciate all of the firefighters for what you do,” said Hana Montgomery, who along with Onio Punzal and Sabra Kauka, offered the blessing for the ceremony. “I call 9-1-1 for help, and having a strong figure like the fireman responding is reassuring, not only for me, but for the person who is suffering. The next time I call 9-1-1, I might just greet you with a hug. Bless all the firefighters for what you do for yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

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