Take a look at one of our favorite stories every year – the announcement of the “Police Officer of the Year” and “Firefighter of the Year” awards, at a special dinner …
Firefighters and police officers gather at the American Legion Portland Post #1, and are honored for their service, during the annual Russ Lemmon Memorial Friendship Dinner.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Every year, American Legion Portland Post #1 – “The Service Post” – presents a special dinner to honor two outstanding outer East Portland emergency first-responders.
“This is our 29th annual ‘Russ Lemmon Memorial Friendship Dinner’ here at the Post,” Commander John Bolner told East Portland News while police officers, firefighters, and their families dined on a three-course buffet dinner, with Post members, held on June 1 in their main hall.
Post #1 Commander John Bolner says the tradition of honoring emergency first-responders is a long-standing tradition in their organization.
“It’s held in memory of Russ Lemmon, who started this event,” Bolner said. “To us, maintaining the tradition is important. We’re honoring the police and firemen that keep us safe every day. We would be in a sorry state without them.”
There is a kinship with emergency responders, Bolner said. “Be it a soldier, firefighter, or a police officer – we’ve all taken risks, worked for freedom, and served the citizens of our country.”
Before the 2013 Firefighter of the Year was introduced, Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) Chief Erin Janssens observed that the selection process is “highly competitive”.
“Staff members are nominated by their peers, and those names and recommendations are submitted to an awards committee, which really considers each nomination carefully. Because it’s such a rigorous process, being chosen is quite an honor.”
Photos of past honorees hang along special hallway in Parkrose PF&R Training Station #2, Janssens reminded.
Introducing 2013 Firefighter of the Year, Firefighter Chris Fukai
Before the presentation ceremony, the 2013 Firefighter of the Year, Chris Fukai, spends a moment with Firefighter Specialist Dan Dove and Lt. Mark Tilden.
Lt. Mark Tilden strode to the podium, and told why Firefighter Chris Fukai was selected for the honor this year.
“Chris pushes all of us to be better at our craft. His thirst for, and application of, knowledge, has led him to be highly-respected among his peers and among the command staff.
PF&R Lt. Mark Tilden tells how Chris Fukai rose to the top of their list this year.
“He’s been instrumental in the development and implementation of more-efficient hose-loads and rescue techniques – and has directly influenced firefighter safety policies,” Tilden said. “There is no doubt in my mind that the time that he has invested already has, and will, directly save victims’ lives, or the life of a firefighter.
“Trust me, during those dark nights, during a chaotic scene, it will be a journeyman firefighter, like Firefighter Chris Fukai, who will rise to the occasion.”
The 2013 Firefighter of the Year, Chris Fukai, tells of his appreciation for workers, and his love of his family.
Accepting his award, Fukai began, “Thanks to the American Legion Post for this program and this dinner – it’s all top-notch. I know we all feel blessed to have the ceremony and dinner tonight.
“I didn’t prepare a speech, because just two things to say,” Fukai continued.
“For those of us who wear this [firefighters’] badge, we’re come into a legacy of service and selflessness – and a brotherhood and sisterhood. I’ve been fortunate to work with amazing people, who have pushed me to be better in every single way. Not just as a fireman, but as a friend, a father, a husband. To call them ‘just like family’ would be disrespectful. They are so much more than family. These are people that I choose to be around and to work with for 24 hours every third day.”
Struggling to keep his composure, Fukai continued, “The second thing I wanted to say – and I won’t ever get this chance again, I’m sure – I’m blessed with a great ‘work family’, but I’m even more blessed to have a wonderful family at home. The reason I can do my job, is because I have a wife and kids who support me 110%.”
American Legion Post #1 Commander John Bolner and PF&R Lt. Mark Tilden flank 2013 Firefighter of the Year, Chris Fukai, as he receives the permanent trophy plaque.
Currently serving at PF&R Mill Park Station 7, and a member of the HazMat Team, Fukai said he’s been in the fire service for 15 years.
“If I could start my life over tomorrow, I join the Bureau again in a heartbeat. If you want to help people, and work with a bunch of awesome individuals, this is the place to be.”
Introducing 2013 Portland Police Bureau Officer of the Year
Officer Bryan DeClercque
Joined by co-workers and family, 2013 Portland Police Officer of the Year Officer Bryan DeClercque chats after the banquet.
Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Sergeant Mark Snyder next took the stage, as he talked about this year’s selection for honors, Officer Bryan DeClercque.
“Our nominee is the ‘universal choice’ among all our sergeants,” Snyder stated. “He’s well-liked by everyone with whom he works. He always stands out, does his work, and never complains. He is the guy that everybody on the shift wants to work with. For us it was an easy choice, among all of the command staff – and definitely among his shift supervisors.
Their nominee was the “universal choice” by all involved, says PPB Sergeant Mark Snyder.
“From the citizens he interacts with, and those with whom he works, and from his supervisors, Officer Bryan DeClercque is the clear choice for this award. He’s received more than 80 Letters of Commendations from citizens, social service agencies, and other municipalities.
“Tonight, Officer Bryan DeClercque is here, supported by several of his peers as well as family members. His wife is here sitting next to him – giving her an evening away from their three children, ages two through five!” Snyder joshed.
Snyder also recognized the officer’s mother. “What makes Anita special is that, not only did he raise his son be a Portland Police Bureau Officer, she supported a husband, also a Portland Police Officer, who retired in 2003 after serving Portland citizens for 26 years.”
“I’ll be quick!” promises 2013 Portland Police Officer of the Year Officer Bryan DeClercque as he talks about his award.
Stepping up to receive his award, Officer DeClercque began, “I’m not a man of many words, so I’ll be quick!
“Thank you for you fine people here at the American Legion,” DeClercque said.
“I couldn’t do this job without the support of my peers.
“I am also thankful for the support of my family, my dad being a good role model and for choosing this line of work. And I am also thankful for my wife for putting up with the odd hours and the nature of my work.”
Flanked by American Legion Post #1 Commander John Bolner and PPB Sergeant Mark Snyder, 2013 Portland Police Officer of the Year winner Officer Bryan DeClercque receives the permanent plaque.
About becoming a police officer, DeClercque told East Portland News, “It’s a very rewarding job.
“You get something new every day, and you get to meet a lot of nice people – and some bad people. But, for the most part we get to meet and work with nice people, and hopefully have a chance to make positive differences in people’s lives.”
© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News