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Daily Heroism Article

Daily Heroism
By James van Beek

We are so incredibly grateful to have the support and recognition of the Tri-Rotary Clubs Public Safety Appreciation Awards. This 6th annual event took place on September 10, 2019, and we were once again blown away by the sacrifices and bravery of our first responders. We were so thankful for the Vail Rotary Club and the event’s sponsors for this great honor.

Here are some of our local heroes ' stories:

EPISODE 1: Imagine, we are driving along on I-70 (our local racecourse), never passing the 75-MPH speed limit, of course, thinking about where we are heading, singing to an old Rolling Stones hit on the radio, thinking we really should have pursued a career as a rock star, when suddenly the conversation with your passenger turns very dark.

You knew she was upset, but surely the oldies would change that mood. There was an element of despair in her voice and you quickly realize that something horrific is about to happen. She speaks of suicide and pushes open the door, attempting to jump out of the speeding car! You immediately grab her, as she fights to get out, while slamming on the brakes, going into a tailspin, and landing on the center median. As you try to grasp what just happened, she jumps out of the car and runs off, crossing the highway, climbing over the deer fence, and upon reaching the river, swims across, then climbs to the edge of a cliff and threatens to jump. You’ve never felt more helpless.

While the details of the car ride differ due to confidentiality, the terror of what occurred afterward is vivid in the minds of those who lived it. As law enforcement is assumed to take these things for granted, they absolutely do not! Their heart races as they rush to stop an impending tragedy, knowing that every second counts. One wrong word, an abrupt move, arriving just a moment too late, will result in a very different ending. Thankfully, this frightened woman, who at some point, decided that it was all too much to bear, lived beyond her psychological crisis because of the heroism of Trooper Chad Henninger and Trooper Megan Boerwinkle of the Colorado State Patrol, and Deputy Megan Heil of the Eagle County Sheriff's Office.

EPISODE II: Today’s teens have conveniences which certainly make life easier, yet in many ways, there are added stresses that can increase a young person’s inability to cope. With social media following them everywhere, timeless challenges like bullying, do not end at the front door. It continues whether the person is engaged or not, having comments “go viral” overnight, meeting them at school the next day. This added pressure has had a negative influence on many, and the suicide rate for children is exploding. Eagle County is no exception.

After receiving a call about a potential medication overdose by a juvenile, Deputies in-route discovered a young girl sitting on the overpass of I-70, feet dangling, contemplating a jump to oncoming traffic. Master Deputy David Proctor and Deputy Jeff Waltz of the Eagle County Sheriff's Office split up and while one spoke softly to this traumatized child, the other one swiftly grabbed her from behind to safety. If not for the actions of these Deputies, we would have had yet another unbearable loss of a minor.

EPISODE III: The lives of many rely on the dedicated people of the Vail Public Safety Communications Center; they are the first, first-responders. The number of calls received by police, fire, medical, and other critical emergencies must be triaged and responded to within moments, or lives may perish. There are only a few people on-board and the tragic calls they receive often stays with them, well beyond the call center. The pressure to extract precise information and dispatch it to the proper source, while the caller is in panic, is a skill that few possess. Life and death decisions must be made on the spot and if the result isn’t ideal, there is always the second-guessing of what could have been done differently. This is the nightmare of all first responders. Yet, because of their training, skills, temperament, determination, and the most advanced equipment available, the combined efforts of Troy Brown of the Town of Vail, Kevin Kromer of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, and Rebecca Pacheco of the Vail Public Safety Communications Center, and their team members, we are in good hands. The “happy” of Happy Valley rests largely on the reassurance that they have our back.

Congratulations to each of these heroes for receiving the Unit Citation for Meritorious Service. As a community, we are eternally grateful.

The Leadership Award recognizes the unwavering dedication of three of our most respected colleagues, Pat Hammon of Minturn Mount Holy Cross and the VFW Post 10721, Alan Himelfarb of Starting Hearts, and Captain Richard Duran of the Colorado State Patrol.

Rotary Club member, Pat Hammon, creates memories that unite this entire community. Her work with the Veterans Administration and homeless Vets is exemplary. Many of our young college students have her to thank for their generous scholarships. She is also President of the Board of Directors for the Freedom Park Memorial Committee since 2005, which in 2010 added the Pentagon Limestone Memorial. She was instrumental in establishing the Veterans and Emergency Responders Memorials. These memorials honor our local Eagle County heroes who have perished yet leave their mark on our history and our hearts. These beautiful reminders will serve to inspire generations to come.

Alan Himelfarb works endlessly to make sure our hearts are not only in the right place but that they keep working. As Executive Director of Starting Hearts, he is dedicated to the mission of providing “a platform for citizens, supporters, and community stakeholders to improve outcomes for sudden cardiac arrest victims…”. There are over 100 AEDs (automated external defibrillator) across Eagle County and he has trained over 1000 children on their use. He offers free training and continues to expand its use across the state. Our high-adventure lifestyle has greatly benefited from the work of Alan Himelfarb.

Recipients of the Distinguished Service Award are Captain Richard Duran of the Colorado State Patrol, Dr. Chip Woodland of Vail Health, and Stephanie Palmer of S3 Partnership.

A Minturn native, Captain Richard Duran began his career in State Patrol 27-years ago. His service has saved lives and supported the community in ways that most of us are unaware of. Master Sergeant Ryan says it best, “Captain Duran is one of the finest men I have ever met. He led from the front and strived each and every day to make a positive impact on someone’s life. If only we all could follow in his footsteps and learn from him.” We extend a heartfelt thank you for your incredible service.

Dr. Chip Woodland has spent the past 27-years as an emergency doctor with Vail Health. He is the volunteer physician who leads the medical team during our FIS World Cup ski races and also teaches ski patrollers across the country about emergency medical trauma. He serves on the board of the Eagle County Paramedic Services and the Colorado Emergency Medical Trauma Committee. We are thankful for his incredible knowledge, selfless dedication, and professional contributions to our community.

Stephanie Palmer began her career with Vail Valley Medical Center in 2002 until 2013 where she was Director of Safety, Security, and Emergency Preparedness. Stephanie was Liaison Officer for the Type 3 Northwest Incident Management Team, with certifications from FEMA as a Master Exercise Practitioner. Stephanie’s ability to coordinate emergency services under variable conditions have been invaluable to the wellbeing of our community.

The Medal of Valor is given to Lieutenant Scott Bridges of Vail Fire and Emergency Services. In route to work during a snowstorm, he came across a multiple vehicle collision. Upon hearing cries for help, he pulled over and exited his car to provide help. Shortly thereafter, another car lost control which hit several vehicles that then struck Bridges, landing him in Intensive Care with multiple injuries to his head, face, and numerous orthopedic conditions. He will be unable to return to work for nearly a year.

Lieutenant Bridges's actions that day demonstrated his deep dedication to public service, placing his life at risk to render aid. Without the protective equipment or traffic control vehicles in place, he thought only of delivering the service which exemplifies the core values of Vail Fire and Emergency Services. His bravery is an inspiration to us all.

Our Call of the Year involves a harrowing Eagle River rescue. A raft had flipped over and five rafters were plunged into the river, which was running very high and fast. Four swam to shore but one was missing. The rafter was spotted face-down, being quickly carried along with the current. Firefighter Scott Pavlakovic attempted a “live bait” rescue swim, across the entire river, narrowly missing the victim.

The rafter then became stuck under a downed tree, with his head underwater. Without hesitation, Avon Police Department Sergeant Benson jumped into the river to grab the rafter but quickly realized the current was too strong. He climbed onto the downed tree and was able to grab the rafter’s life jacket and lift his head above the water, holding him until other rescuers arrived.

Avon Police Department Officer Balmore Herrera, Detective Sergeant Jonathan Lovins, and Sergeant Ken Dammen, arrived at the location and began efforts to bring the rafter to shore but were unsuccessful, as the tree began shifting.

Eagle River Fire Protection District personnel Lieutenant Justin Ayer, Engineer John Bailey, Firefighter Matt Devito, and Firefighter Scott Pavlakovic, grabbed a raft, approaching Sergeant Benson and the rafter. Firefighter Ben Satsky jumped into the river, working his way towards the tree, and freed the victim. While the rafter was being removed from the water, a log became dislodged and pinned Sergeant Benson and Firefighter Ben Satsky against the downed tree, dangerously trapping them. Working together, Detective Sergeant Lovins, Sergeant Dammen, and Engine Companies 7, 11, and 15 were able to safely get Sergeant Benson and Firefighter Ben Satsky to shore. The Avon Police Department was also instrumental in the recovery efforts.

Advanced life resuscitation efforts were implemented by Kelly Conrad, Andrea Messier, Chris Marsh, and Bryce Anderson of the Eagle County Paramedic Services on the scene and in transit to Vail Hospital. Each minute seemed like an hour, as they took turns trying to restart a heart that had probably stopped, back at the river. Yet, never say never, as they continued until the victim was taken into the hospital. Sadly, even the doctors were unable to revive the victim.

This call involved multiple agencies and the risk to life was great. Yet, these brave first responders didn’t give it a second thought. We are so amazed at the heroic actions of those we proudly call neighbors, friends, and lifesavers.

We live most of our daily lives, thankfully, a bit oblivious to the sacrifices of others. I am honored to call these colleagues, the inspiration for which we all strive, and most importantly, my friends. Thank you.