Fire and Police Bureau personnel honored at American Legion dinner

You might be surprised to know how, and why, an individual from each of our City’s public safety bureaus are singled out. Find out who was awarded, right here …

Her husband, Lt. Paul Steigleder, of the Clackamas County Sheriffs Office, pins a corsage on his wife – a Russ Lemmon Award honoree – Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Sgt. Debbie Steigleder.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
You’d have seen more public safety bureau “brass” coming into the hall that you’d see at a crime scene or a major disaster – on the evening of April 30, as the 18th American Legion Post #1 and Auxiliary Unit #1 Annual Russ Lemmon Friendship Dinner got underway.

Russ Lemmon was a long-standing a member of Post #1, and a Multnomah County Deputy Sheriff – known to his comrades as a man of principle, dedication, and integrity. In his name, the Post honors one member annually, selected from the ranks of Portland Fire & Rescue and the Portland Police Bureau.

Earl Day, Post Commander of American Legion Post #1 in the Mill Park neighborhood, welcomes all, and outlines the events to come during the evening.

“That’s why we’ve gathered annually at this dinner, named in Lemmon’s honor,” explained Earl Day, the Post Commander.

“In addition to honoring our ‘brothers and sisters’ in public safety,” Day continued, “we do this because we are part of the community. Our organization is a community-based, nonprofit organization that wants to help all of the people around us; That’s what we do. For example, we help disabled veterans, veterans, veterans’ families – and anyone in the community that we can help.”

Accompanying himself, Mark “Chihuahua Desert” Cach entertains, as Post members and guests arrive and get seated.

American Legion Post #1 Honor Guard member Bob Hartsock shares a light moment with Portland Fire & Rescue honoree Captain Kyle Wochnik, at the reception before the dinner.

The Portland Police Bureau’s East Precinct sergeants and command staff smile for pictures at their banquet table, with Sgt. Debbie Steigleder.

After a hearty welcome, guests were invited to a buffet, resplendently furnished with hot entrees and side dishes, as well as a table dedicated to bowls of fresh salads, and yet another table to desserts.

After a enjoying what they said was truly toothsome dinner – and a few second helpings – the assembly settled back for the evening’s awards program.

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Lt. Larry Graham, Captain Mark Kruger, and Commander Bill Walker, join others as they check out the delicious salads.

The Posting of the Colors by the Post #1’s Honor Guard starts the awards ceremony.

After dinner, Post Commander Day turned the podium over to representatives of Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) and the Portland Police Bureau (PPB).

Portland Fire & Rescue Division Chief Scott Fischer talks about the Bureau’s honoree – and how he was singled out to receive this honor.

First up was PF&R Division Chief Scott Fisher , who told of the Bureau’s rigorous selection process. “Anyone in the Bureau can be put up for the award; we had about a dozen nominations. Each individual must meet all 12 criteria areas we have established for someone to qualify for this award.”

A 16-member panel then selects the candidate for the “Firefighter of the Year” from among the qualified nominees, Fisher explained – as he went on to announce the 2011 recipient, Captain Kyle Wochnick, who works on the “administrative side”, at PF&R Training Station 2 in Parkrose.

PF&R Division Chief Scott Fisher presents the plaque to 2011 Russ Lemmon Award winner Captain Kyle Wochnick.

“Kyle was selected because he is embodied of Portland Fire [& Rescue],” Fisher said. “He’s been involved in every level of the organization. He’s been at our Training division, our representative in the Portland Office of Emergency Management – he’s been everywhere. We look around the Bureau looking for someone to get a project done; Kyle is the go-to guy. That’s why he was selected.”

PF&R Captain Kyle Wochnick collects his thoughts before he speaks, accepting the award.

Captain Kyle Wochnick paused a moment before he addressed the crowd, then said, “Some people say I’m a man of few words. Tonight, this is unbelievable. This is the greatest honor I’ve ever had as a firefighter.”

2011 marks the 100th year of the David Campbell Memorial, Wochnick pointed out. “And tonight, this honor is the greatest honor of my life. But it’s not just for me, it is for all of those individuals who, every day, risk their lives and their health for the safety of the citizens of Portland.

“So, in a way, this isn’t just for me, this award is for all Portland firefighters,” Wochnick concluded.

PPB East Precinct Commander Bill Walker reads the “letter of award” for Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Sgt. Debbie Steigleder.

Before the ceremony, PPB East Precinct Commander Bill Walker took us aside to candidly talk about their 2011 selection to be given the Russ Lemmon Award.

“Our East Precinct Sgt. Debbie Steigleder was chosen as the ‘2011 Officer of the Year’ for the American Legion Post, because of her dedication as a supervisor on patrol,” Walker began.

The sergeant has spent her entire career, Walker reported, mostly “on the street” – being one of the “rare supervisors who truly is a leader in our organization. Whenever there’s been a critical incident – like in the November 23, 2010 pre-Thanksgiving Day Mill Park Neighborhood event [see our story: CLICK HERE], in which police officers were being shot at – Steigleder took control and kept both officers safe in that difficult situation. I have no doubt that her actions saved several lives that night.”

The difficult thing about naming just one person to honor, Walker told us, “is that we have so many great police officers and command staff at East Precinct. It’s hard to name one; but Sgt. Debbie Steigleder was our choice.”

PPB East Precinct Lt. John Brooks listens while Commander Walker speaks about Sgt. Debbie Steigleder.

During the ceremony, Steigleder’s direct supervisor, Lt. John Brooks, told the guests that she was a paramedic with American Medical Response for three years before joining the Police Bureau.

About being an “on the street” cop, Brooks said, “While most officers eventually find positions off the street, Steigleder has remained in the physically-demanding world of foot-chases, crime scenes, protests, and dangerous tactical incidents.”

After giving details about the Mill Park pre-Thanksgiving Day event, Brooks observed that the sergeant also is an instructor at the Metro Area Sergeants Academy, and actively serves with the Bureau’s Traumatic Incident Committee. “There, she assists fellow officers when they find themselves having just come to a dramatic incident. It is through this role that you see how much she cares for the men and women who put a uniform on, and roll out on patrol, and face whatever a larger city will throw at them.”

Wrapping up his comments, Brooks added, “One of the last things is her candor. I can speak to this personally as her supervisor. If you want to know her opinion, or about a direction, all you need do is ask; sometimes you don’t even have to ask. [Her response] will be honest, and not candy-coated.  As someone who appreciates honesty, I think Debbie is a real gem.”

Sgt. Debbie Steigleder accepts the “Russ Lemmon Police Officer of the Year” award from Commander Bill Walker.

As he called Steigleder to the stage, Commander Walker said, “For your commitment to keeping the City of Portland safe by remaining in one of the core functions of the Police Bureau’s patrol division, your long-standing commitment to this area – and maybe one of the most experienced and knowledgeable first-line supervisors working patrol – it is for these reasons you’re being acknowledged as the American Legion Post #1 as our ‘Officer of the Year’.”

Thanking members of her Bureau and the American Legion Post #1,  Sgt. Debbie Steigleder says she feels honored by the award.

“I’d rather be shot at and then talk in public,” quipped Sgt. Steigleder. “Thank you very much; I feel so honored. I am blessed to work with some of those amazing people. They go out every night and work their tails off. Sometimes it seems like we’re working against insurmountable odds, but we do remarkable work in East Precinct to keep our district of the City of Portland safe. Without these officers, this would not be possible; they make my job easy. Again, thank you very much.”

With that, another American Legion Post #1 and Auxiliary Unit #1 Annual Russ Lemmon Friendship Dinner came to an end.

Before the guests are dismissed, the Post gives special thanks to the Sea Scouts Cadets with ships Voyager 620 and the Santa Maria 656 – for their dedicated service at the event.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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