Portland’s top cop and top firefighter honored at American Legion ceremony

Learn why this East Portland Veteran’s group throws this honorary dinner – and how the recipients may go on to earn national fame for their service …

The hall was filled to capacity as American Legion Post #1 honored Portland Fire & Rescue and the Portland Police Bureau’s men of the year.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The American Legion Post #1 meeting hall on SE 122nd Avenue was packed elbow-to-elbow, as their annual Friendship Dinner honoring Portland’s top police officer and top firefighter got underway on April 19.

“We present the ‘Russ Lemmon Awards’ each year,” Post Commander Thomas Fulton told us, after the three-course buffet dinner and before the awards ceremony.

American Legion Post #1 Commander Thomas Fulton conducts the presentation of the Russ Lemmon Awards.

“The purpose is to recognize outstanding individuals from our fire and police bureaus who make our community better and safer,” Fulton explained. “One [honoree] will risk their life to save yours, by pulling you from a burning house. The other might give you a deserved traffic ticket – or step in the line of fire and take a bullet, to keep you from being shot.”

The firefighter and the officer are chosen by coworkers at their respective bureaus, Fulton explained. Those honored by Post #1 will compete for state-wide honors from the Oregon American Legion; and, if successful, will go on to be considered for national recognition.

Portland Fire & Rescue Firefighter Anthony Tony Snook from Station #1 accepts his award from American Legion Portland Post #1 Commander Thomas Fulton as PF&R Captain Robert Zavodsky looks on.

Firefighter of the Year
“It’s an honor to be among great Americans,” said Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) Captain Robert Zavodsky, as he began telling why Firefighter Anthony “Tony” Snook from PF&R Station #1 was selected.

“Tony does not look toward rank or money – things that normally motivate people. Tony is one of those true firefighters who, day in and day out, is motivated by the passion he has for his work. He comes to work with a tremendous attitude; the younger ones look to him as a shining light,” Zavodsky noted.

Snook has become known as an apparatus specialist, able to fix nearly anything, including the six-burner range in the station house. He designed and specified the equipment used in PF&R’s “Urban Search and Rescue” rig.

“Before search video cameras were available, Tony and his lieutenant built a prototype search camera system. It was a great – there was nothing like it at the time,” Zavodsky quipped, “except it took a man just to carry the battery.”

Snook is known as a Disneyland aficionado, Zavodsky added. A firefighter, with a son ill with cancer, asked for help planning an upcoming trip. “Not only did Tony lay out ‘the ideal’ itinerary, he encouraged everyone in the stationhouse to help pay for the trip.”

On the third-floor wall of Station #1, his Captain told the veterans, there is a wall bearing photographs of each of the firefighters who won this award over the years. “I get a special feeling when I walk down that hall and think about these dedicated firefighters. All of us will tell you that Tony is the sort of person that you would like to work with,” concluded Zavodsky as he handed the award to Snook.

Past Post Commander Tom Murphy escorts honoree Officer Robert Brown around the meeting hall and to the stage.

Police Officer of the Year
Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs was next to step to the podium, to tell why Officer Robert Brown was chosen for this year’s honor.

“Cops are often in chaotic situations,” began Crebs. “Not only is he physically imposing, Officer Brown’s performance is tactically sound. Whenever he goes into a tense situation, he brings calm and a state of equilibrium. He helps people feel that everything will soon be alright.”

Crebs held up a thick folder, and told what he found, when he reviewed Brown’s personnel file.

“There are too many commendations and letters to read,” the Commander said. “I pulled out a couple of items, to give you a snapshot of this officer; each of them tells a different story about Robert.”

Reading a note that one of his peers wrote, early in his career, Crebs quoted, “Officer Brown does well in establishing rapport with citizens. He’s personable and respectful. He shows initiative when activity is slow, and doesn’t focus on one aspect such as traffic stops.” The commander added, “This shows that Robert was a well-rounded officer from day one.”

Crebs then related the story of a grocery store robber who held a knife to the neck of a clerk and demanded money. “The suspect fled as Robert arrived on-scene. He tracked the suspect down, following him through neighborhood back yards. Robert saw feet sticking out from under a bush, took the suspect into custody, and recovered the money. This is exemplifies his work; he loves to catch the ‘bad guys’.”

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs congratulates Officer Robert Brown after his award was presented by the Post’s commander, Thomas Fulton, at American Legion Portland Post #1.

The final example Crebs pointed out was this citation: “He has the ability to quickly establish a perimeter, work with undercover officers, and work with members of the canine unit. [Brown’s] outstanding work significantly contributed to the capture of suspects, and to the safety of the community.”

Over the past two years, Brown’s efforts working with canine units resulted in the arrest of 15 suspects for felony activities in different incidents, the commander noted.

Quoting the great football coach, Vince Lombardi, Crebs looked Brown in the eyes and concluded by saying, “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to his commitment to personal excellence regardless of his chosen field of endeavor. Robert, you chose the Portland Police Bureau’s East Precinct night shift, where you’ve achieved excellence.”

After the program concluded, PF&R Chief David Sprando commented, “Considering the way that these individuals have served their country, it’s like the top honor for us.”

Commander Crebs agreed, adding, “This Post’s hospitality and generosity is awesome. It makes me feel good inside to know that we have this kind of support in our community.”

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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