Ventura County Firefighters of the Year and Citizen Heroes honored

By Karen Helen Szatkowski

The Kiwanis International of Ventura, co-hosted by Oxnard and Thousand Oaks clubs, put on their 13th Annual Event to honor many of the local firefighters and several citizen heroes at the Crown Plaza Hotel on the Ventura Beach on September 11th.

The evening ceremonies were opened by the Ventura City Firefighters Pipes & Drums accompanied by the Ventura County Honor Guard which was an exciting and moving start. Many city and county dignitaries and fire officials were in attendance as well, introduced by the Mayor of Ventura, Cheryl Heitmann.

The first honoree, Captain John Harber, was presented the Firefighter of the Year by the Santa Paula Fire Department.  Captain Harber took a school program under his wing which gained wide praise.

The Ventura County Fire Department awarded a Firefighter of the Year from each of the five battalions starting with Firefighter Joseph Dullam of Battalion 1; Captain Richard Toukdarian of Battalion 2; Firefighter Ryan Flitt of Battalion 3; Firefighter Mark Villasenor of Battalion 4 and Firefighter Lucas Beller of Battalion 5.  Exemplary first responders all.

Firefighter Josh Massie earned the Firefighter of the Year in the Oxnard Fire Department as his IT talent allowed the change in the vitally important radio program to mature smoothly.

Paramedic/Firefighter Chad Panke, Firefighter of the Year with the Fillmore Fire Department, has been involved in implementing the County of Ventura’s Cardiac Arrest Management Program as well as the EMS system.

Paramedic/Firefighter Drew DeRousseau, as Firefighter of the Year for the Ventura City Fire Department is known as the “question man”.  Drew wants to know why, when, where, what and who. In his 3 1/2 years with the Department he has found many answers.

Fire Engineer Torrey Anderson of the Federal Fire Department moved from volunteer firefighter at the Fillmore Fire Department to the Federal Fire Department in 2007 as a full-time employee.

Many of these recipients were not able to attend the ceremony as they were deployed to fight the walls of flame scorching Northern California.

Along with these lauded public servants, Kiwanis awarded Citizen Hero Honors to people that jumped in and saved others in danger.  Maria Esparza happened upon a burning car on the freeway and managed to pull an infant from the back seat while Brian Neilsen, who also stopped to see if he was needed, pulled the driver out of the car.  Josh Powers, visiting the beach during a nasty rip tide, swam out and saved a friend and his own fiancée who were both very close to drowning. Lastly Richard Rychlowski rescued a neighbor from a fire consumed home next door just seconds before help arrived.

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