East Portland Firefighter and Police Officer honored at annual American Legion Friendship Dinner

Find out why these two rank-and-file members of their respective bureaus were selected to win the prestigious “Russ Lemmon” Award …
American Legion Post #1 Commander Robert Mathison welcomes all to their annual Friendship Dinner honoring Portland’s police officer and firefighter of the year.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
With an aim to recognize outstanding individuals from Portland’s fire and police bureaus who make our community better and safer, the American Legion Post #1, on SE 122nd Avenue, holds an annual Friendship Dinner honoring selected public safety workers.

At the dinner, they present the “Russ” Lemmon Award – named after a man that American Legion Post #1 Commander Robert Mathison noted was “was known to his comrades as a man of principle, dedication and integrity”.

This year, on April 18, it wasn’t a high-ranking cop or firefighter who was chosen; instead, Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) Truck Company 25 Firefighter Robert Lemon and Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Officer Heath E. Kula were the ones selected.

After the three-course dinner of braised salmon and prime rib served up by the Post Auxiliary Unit #1, the proceedings were called to order by Post Commander Robert Mathison.

American Legion Post #1 Commander Robert Mathison presents the 2009 Firefighter of the Year Award to Southeast Portland’s PF&R Truck Company 25 Firefighter Robert Lemon.

2009 Firefighter of the Year

Firefighter Robert Lemon, a longtime SE Portland resident – and a 29-year veteran of Portland Fire & Rescue – was chosen to represent his bureau.

PF&R Chief John Klum had high words of praise for Lemon before the official awards ceremony. “Throughout his career, Lemon has always been a ‘firefighter’s firefighter’. He sets a positive example for younger firefighters – this is critical for us today, because we have a young workforce coming into the bureau.”

Lemon has been outspoken advocate for health and fitness, Klum added, recognizing how being in good shape directly affects a firefighters’ ability to do their job. Firefighter Lemon has held several positions in the Portland Firefighters Association and is currently serving as Vice-President. He was recently knighted by Franklin High School for “Excellence in Community Service”.

The annual honorees are selected, Klum noted, from among all firefighters in the bureau. “We have a sophisticated selection process. The selection committee carefully reviews each nomination. Not only must the firefighter be exemplary in their working career, but also must show exemplary efforts in their private lives.”

Before he was presented his award, Station 25 Captain Steve Nyquist told those assembled at the annual Friendship Dinner that, because of Lemon, recruits are sent to their firehouse for training during the last portion of their probationary period. “Bob takes his time to pass on his knowledge and experience on all aspects of the job and station life.”

Being a long-time resident in the neighborhood, Lemon is well known and admired, Nyquist commented. “Recently during the cold weather, we were sent out in the middle of the night to help an elderly lady who was having problems with her furnace. She was outside in the snow, waiting for us. As she was explaining her problem, she stopped mid-sentence and said ‘Oh, you’re Bobby Lemon; thank you for coming.’ It amazes me how many people know him and recognize him, even when he is wearing his signature sunglasses.”

Asked to comment on his award after the ceremony, Lemon said, “It’s a big honor; but it is recognition for everything that we’ve all done. Firefighting is a team effort, and I’m really glad to work with the team at Station 25.”

Upon hearing Lemon respond to his award, Klum added, “Bob may be a man of few words, but he is a man of tremendous conviction. “His portrait will go up on the wall at headquarters along with past years’ honorees going back to the mid-1800’s, in a hallway facing the Chief of the Portland Fire Bureau.”

2009 Police Officer of the Year

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Officer Heath Kula, as his accolades are proclaimed by Commander Michael Crebs.

When reading a biographical sketch of Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Officer Heath E. Kula, we were surprised to discover he was once a practicing intellectual property attorney. “I’m now a reformed, ex-lawyer,” he told us before the ceremony began. “I went to law school hoping to join the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Instead going to the FBI, Kula said he was persuaded to become a corporate lawyer. “I made lots of money; but it wasn’t what I wanted.

Commander lauds honoree
Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs told the audience why Kula was selected.

“From the very beginning, and for the past four years, he’s excelled as a police officer,” Crebs began. He’s an outstanding communicator. He’s good at catching bad guys. He’s outstanding with firearms. He’s a good report writer. From the first moment we hired him, he’s shown himself to be an outstanding police officer.”

To illustrate the commitment to the police bureau Kula demonstrated, Crebs noted that the honoree graduated from Lewis and Clark College with a law degree.

“After he became an assistant district attorney with Multnomah County, he decided to become a police officer,” Crebs said.

“After taking the sworn oath of duty, he got to work the graveyard shift. So here he is, out working at three o’clock in the morning, catching bad guys, keeping the community safe. While Heath had other options in life, he chose to serve the community, working as a police officer in the middle of night, taking care of you and me, making Portland a better place to live.”

During the past year, Crebs continued, Kula distinguished himself as an outstanding officer by setting up the current system used to curb street-level prostitution.

“He came up with a way to use the courts to effectively put sanctions on both the prostitutes and the johns. His diverse experience has been key in setting up the new Prostitution Coordination Team. As the commander of the precinct, I’ve had some good ideas – but none as good as this one.”

American Legion Post #1 Commander Robert Mathison presents Officer Heath Kula the 2009 Police Officer of the Year award.

After the ceremony, Kula told us, “This really is an honor. And it’s fantastic that the American Legion Post does this. There are not many ‘at-a-boys’ for people who work in public safety.”

About the event, Kula commented, “The fact that they take the time to do this is amazing and gratifying. I’m proud to sit among other police officers, firefighters, and American veterans – it’s a group that you can be proud to be a part of.”

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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