Vail Valley Rotary Clubs’ Public Safety Recognition Awards honors the valley’s heroes who walk among us
Emergency responders, medical professionals and community leaders get their due at annual event
VAIL — Heroism is not difficult to define and heroes are not difficult spot.
Heroes run toward peril, often their own, when the rest of us are running away.
Vail’s Donovan Pavilion was packed with heroes this week for the sixth annual Rotary Public Safety Appreciation Awards. It’s no coincidence that it’s held around the anniversary of 9/11.
“You are the heroes of Eagle County, putting yourself in harm’s way every day,” Rabbi Joel Newman told the crowd during his keynote address.
Newman, 24 years a Navy chaplain, spent more than his share of time in combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. He looked out at the crowd of first responders and captured their collective mindset with a quote from the Prophet Isaiah, “Here am I, lord. Send me.”
And so they go.
Some are professionals. Others like Vail Mountain Rescue are volunteers. They’re as varied as the landscape they patrol and protect, but they all have one thing in common: When they’re called, they always go.
In one of his last deployments — Iraq in 2014 — Newman was pulling shut a 400-pound door in a bomb-resistant truck when a good-natured sergeant poked his head in, saying, “Let’s mount up and ride and see what God has in mind for us.”
Most honorees Monday were a little sheepish when they were called up to receive their awards. They tended to look like they’d rather be facing down bad guys or pulling people out of burning buildings than standing in front of their colleagues receiving standing ovations.
“They did not sign up for awards,” Dan Smith with Vail Mountain Rescue said. “They signed up to run toward danger when everyone else is running toward safety.”
Running toward danger requires some coordination, said Vail Public Safety Communications Supervisor Jennifer Kirkland. Eagle County is home to six fire chiefs, four police chiefs, the Sheriff’s Office and several other agencies.
“Why doesn’t it all fall apart? Because we’re all working together,” Kirkland said.
Most of the time they’re just there in the background keeping watch. Occasionally, though, we pay attention. On the eve of 9/11 in closing the evening, Rev. Scott Beebe snapped it into clear focus.
“We get to stand in the shadow of such greatness. We are blessed,” Beebe said.
2019 Rotary Public Safety Recognition Awards
Unit Citation for Meritorious Service
Trooper Chad Henninger and Trooper Megan Boerwinkle of the Colorado State Patrol, and Deputy Megan Heil of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office
On the afternoon of May 27, 2019, all three were called to a disturbance on I-70 in Wolcott. They found a vehicle spun out in the median, which the driver said was intentional to keep a female passenger, who was having a psychological breakdown, from jumping out of the car at highway speed. When the car stopped spinning, she jumped out of the vehicle, ran across the interstate, climbed over the deer fence, and swam through the Eagle River. She eventually ended up at the edge of a cliff, approximately 70 feet above the ground, where she disrobed. Henninger, Boerwinkle and Heil drove quickly up Highway 131, and ran through a sage field to get her. She was rocking back and forth on her knees at the edge of a cliff. When the officers approached, she began making suicidal statements and threatened to jump. Heil was able to grab the woman’s arm to pull her away from the edge. After a brief struggle, they were able to take the woman into protective custody without injury, saving her life.
Troy Brown of the Town of Vail, Kevin Kromer of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, and Rebecca Pacheco of the Vail Public Safety Communications Center.
Since 2004, the three have worked together behind the scenes, to make sure the communications and data systems provide real-time information to all emergency responders in Eagle County. This team has affected the outcome of every single call for service in Eagle County for the past 15 years.
Master Deputy David Proctor and Deputy Jeff Waltz of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.
On the morning of July 2, 2019, Proctor and Waltz received a report of a suicidal girl, who was walking to a store to buy enough Tylenol to kill herself. Proctor spotted her on Gypsum’s I-70 overpass bridge, with her feet dangling over the side. She looked like she was preparing to jump onto the eastbound lanes and into traffic below. Proctor tried to talk to her, but she did not respond. When Waltz arrived, he saw what was happening. As Proctor continued to talk to her, Waltz walked behind the girl and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her off the bridge to safety.
Pat Hammon, Eagle County
Hammon of Minturn’s Mount Holy Cross VFW Post is nominated for 14 years of outstanding public service to Eagle County. Among other things, she serves as the Eagle County Veterans Service Officer, as Freedom Park Memorial Committee Board President, and as Minturn VFW Post Veterans Service Officer.
Pat began her service to her country by serving four years in the United States Army as a registered nurse, one of those years in the Vietnam War. In Vietnam at the 24th Evacuation Hospital in Long Bien in 1968, she was head nurse of the triage-emergency center.
The Freedom Park Memorial Committee completed the Freedom Park American Flag Pole Plaza in 2006. In 2010 they added the Pentagon Limestone Memorial. Hammon oversaw completion of the Veterans and Emergency Responders Memorials in Freedom Park. Pat also dedicates many hours to planning, organizing, and executing the annual Freedom Park Memorial Day and Veterans Day public ceremonies. She handles all Veterans Administration claims for wounded warriors’ disabilities and assists other nonprofits with homeless veterans in the valley.
Alan Himelfarb, Starting Hearts
Himelfarb is Executive Director of Starting Hearts. He championed a new statewide law to encourage public access defibrillators, and has placed more than 100 new defibrillators in Eagle County alone, including advanced units on Vail Mountain. He has also personally taught CPR to more than 1,000 local children, and facilitated classes for countless more citizens. Because of his work and Starting Hearts, sudden cardiac arrest survival rates in Eagle County are two-and-a-half times higher than the national average.
Distinguished Service Awards
Capt. Richard Duran, Colorado State Patrol
Duran grew up in Minturn and signed on with the state patrol as a cadet in September 1991. He graduated the academy in February 1992, and was assigned to Troop Charlie, serving Eagle, Garfield, Summit, and Pitkin Counties. He was promoted to corporal in May 2000, and in September of the same year, promoted to sergeant. In May 2005, he was promoted to captain. Through his 27-year career, Duran led his Mountain Troop with honor, integrity, and pride. Duran was foundational in the way that state patrol plans for special events, providing expertise for the Winter X Games, the Pro Cycling Challenge, and the 2015 Alpine World Ski Championships.
Dr. Chip Woodland, Vail Health
Woodland has worked as an emergency physician with Vail Health for 27 years. For the past 10 years, Dr. Woodland has volunteered his time and talent as a lead medical professional at the Birds of Prey World Cup ski races. He teaches ski patrollers around the country about medical trauma. He is a National Ski Patrol Volunteer and serves on the board of directors for Eagle County Paramedic Services. In addition to his professional contributions, he is a devoted father, husband, brother, and friend.
Stephanie Palmer, S3 Partnership
Palmer began her career with Vail Valley Medical Center in 2002, and ended her career there in 2013 as director of safety, security and emergency preparedness. She served as secretary for the Eagle County Public Safety Council for six years and in a volunteer role after starting her private consulting business, S3 Partnerships. She served as a director for the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships planning team, dedicating three years of planning to this successful, safe event.
Medal of Valor
Lt. Scott Bridges, Vail Fire and Emergency Services
Bridges has been with Vail Fire and Emergency Services since 1999.
At 6 a.m., March 1, 2019, Bridges was on his way to Vail Fire to begin his shift. The upper Vail Valley was being hammered by a snowstorm and the roads were slick and icy.
Multiple vehicles collided on eastbound I-70 in Eagle-Vail. Lt. Bridges was driving by and was on the scene before on-duty first responders. As he slowly drove past the scene, he rolled down his passenger window to ask if there were any injuries. That’s when heard someone crying for help. He parked his car just beyond the scene and jumped out to help.
That’s when another vehicle lost control and struck several of the vehicles involved in the original accident. That collision drove one of the already-wrecked vehicles into Bridges. He was thrown quite a distance, suffered a head injury, facial injuries, and orthopedic injuries. He spent several days in intensive care and has undergone several surgeries. He’s still recovering, and won’t be able to return to full duty for approximately 11 months.
Call of the Year
Eagle River Fire Protection District, Avon Police Department, Eagle County Paramedic Services
The Call of the Year recognizes Sergeant Eric Benson, Detective Sergeant Jonathan Lovins, Sergeant Kenneth Dammen, and Officer Balmore Herrera of the Avon Police Department, and Lieutenant Justin Ayer, Lieutenant Ryan VanderLinden, Lieutenant Brent Redden, Engineer Ben Satsky, Engineer Joel Frederick, Engineer John Bailey, Firefighter Scott Pavlakovic, Firefighter Mathew Devito, Firefighter Kevin Kerr, and Engineer Aaron Lewis of the Eagle River Fire Protection District.
In the early afternoon of June 6, 2019, the Eagle River was raging at record levels. It was an expert rafters’ paradise, but in conditions like those sometimes expertise and gear is not enough. At 1:15 p.m., first responders were called to a river rescue for a raft that had flipped. Five rafters were plunged into the river. Four swam to shore, but one was still unaccounted for. Sergeant Benson responded to Bob the Bridge and spotted the rafter face down in the water, floating downstream. Engine 15 company deployed Pavlakovic for a rescue swim across the raging river. Benson ran along the riverbank and made several unsuccessful attempts to grab the unresponsive rafter.
The rafter became stuck under a downed tree behind the Westin, with his head under the water. Without hesitation, Sergeant Benson jumped into the river to grab the rafter, but quickly realized the water was running too fast. He climbed onto the downed tree, and grabbed the rafter’s life jacket and lifted his head above the water. But the tree shifted in the swift current and Benson was unable to move.
Herrera, Lovins and Dammen began attempting to bring the rafter to shore. Their efforts were hampered by the tree’s broken branches and the swift current.
Ayer, Devito and Pavlakovic entered the river with a raft and approached Benson and the victim. Satsky entered the river and made his way along the tree and freed the rafter, who was picked up by first responders on the shore. Redden, Lewis and Herrera performed CPR until paramedics arrived.
While the rafter was being pulled from the water, a log became dislodged and pinned Benson and Satsky against the downed tree in the river, trapping them. Working together, Lovins, Dammen, and three engine companies managed free Benson and pull them to the shore and safety.