(March 28, 2014) The Ocean City Fire Department held its first department-wide awards ceremony this past Saturday, March 22, at the Ocean City convention center.
“This is our first, of what will hopefully be an annual event,” said OCFD Chief Chris Larmore.
Top awards went to Amanda Bunting, Firefighter of the Year for the Career Division; Robert “Bobby” Magee, Paramedic of the Year, and Tony Villani, Firefighter of the Year for the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company.
Saturday was the first time the department has ever held combined awards for all three elements of the city’s fire services. In 2007, the department was reorganized to be an umbrella for three separate but cohesive groups – the OCVFC, the professional firefighters and paramedics, known as the Career Division, and the Office of the Fire Marshal.
While combining volunteer and paid personnel in such a way can be difficult, Larmore thanked the entire department for making the OCFD’s model work over the past years.
“I recently came back from training with departments in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties,” Larmore noted. “They are some of the largest combined volunteer-career fire departments in the nation, and they still don’t hold a candle to us.”
Likely the most emotional award given Saturday was the Unit Citation for those who had responded to the blaze at St. Paul’s by-the-Sea on Nov. 26, 2013. Brenda Dingwall, widow of the Rev. David Dingwall, thanked those who had fought the fire that ultimately claimed her husband’s life.
“While it didn’t have the result we had hoped, I take comfort in knowing that David was being served by the best,” Dingwall said. “Your attention has done so much for me and my children.”
Deputy Chief for the Office of the Fire Marshal David Hartley gave special recognition to several of his employees who had served as both first responders and after-incident investigators. Because the Fire Marshal’s offices are located in City Hall, across the street from St. Paul’s, the Fire Marshal’s personnel were the first on the scene.
“We typically come in after the situation is under control,” Hartley said. “But these individuals had to focus not only on the investigation side of it, but do double-duty.”
Unit Citations were also given to those involved in two water rescues, one in June in the ocean off First Street, and another in July in the bay off Teal Drive.
Bunting earned recognition for her drive to improve and her advocacy on behalf of the citizens, serving as the department’s internal investigator and auditor.
“Amanda had put in for a promotion which was eventually given to someone else,” Deputy Chief Chuck Barton said. “The first thing she said to me after not being selected was ‘what can I do better?’”
Villani, originally from Ocean City, now lives and works mostly in Virginia, but has continued to service in the OCVFC.
“Tony drives countless miles from Virginia to Ocean City to keep up his drills and duties,” OCVFC Chief David Cropper said.
Magee, a long-time professional firefighter and paramedic, is considered an expert in his field and frequently contributes to industry publications.
“Bobby is very well respected among his peers for his knowledge and skills,” Barton said.
Several length-of-service commendations were also given. Steve Cropper, who has been an OCVFC member for 52 years and was a professional firefighter for 37 of those, was awarded a silver anniversary axe.
Deputy Chief Chuck Barton was recognized for 30 years of service, and retiring firefighter/paramedic Larry Sackadorf was recognized for nearly 28.
The OCVFC’s elected leadership also issued several recognitions for volunteer firemen. OCVFC President Cliff Christello gave the President’s Award to Steve Price, the company’s Public Information Officer and Christello’s mentor.
“Whenever I’ve needed someone to talk to about something or to bounce ideas off of, Steve has been there,” Christello said.
The volunteer company’s Member of the Year was Tommy Parker. The Chief’s award was presented to Mike Hastings, and the Training Award to Robert Hearn. Joanne Wagner was recognized as Member of the Year by the OCVFC Ladies’ Auxiliary.
Larmore also gave special recognition to the operators of the department’s fireboat, which went into service last summer. Each of the crew not only had to complete a full training program from the U.S. Coast Guard, but also an additional 40 to 60 hours of training within the department on the specific boat itself.
“This is without question one of the best-trained groups out there for a particular piece of apparatus,” Larmore said.
He also recognized Capt. Josh Bunting for his leadership on the fireboat project.
“I would venture to say that without him, this project may not even have happened,” Larmore said. “He oversaw everything from the original bid specification through the final proposal, the construction, and the training.”
Capt. Eric Peterson was also recognized for completing the Executive Fire Officer Program from the US Fire Administration, as well as being given a Distinguished Service Award for his efforts in training new recruits.
“Not only did he do the executive officer program while he was working here, he graduated with a 4.0 GPA,” Hartley said. “Eric does a phenomenal job putting together the training for everyone in the department…the amount of work we put on him is astronomical.”
Hartley’s predecessor, retired Fire Marshal Sam Villani, presented Hartley and Josh Bunting with a “Master Blaster” commendation for carrying on the mission of the OCFD’s hazardous materials and bomb squad, which Villani founded.
“I’ve been retired two-and-a-half years, and the bomb squad is the only thing I’ve really missed,” Villani said.
Firefighter/Paramedic Kim Tull was recognized for conducting community training classes on Automatic External Defibrillators [AEDs].
“There’s no question that her actions have saved the lives of many,” Barton said.