Moments before the El Dorado Hills Fire Department’s inaugural public awards ceremony began, an Avellano Drive structure fire sent crews to their engines and trucks.
Forget the dress wear and plaques … it was time to work.
For this reason, the fire department’s Volunteer Firefighter of the Year Rob Austerman and Firefighter of the Year Ben Cowles missed their awards presentations Friday evening. Family happily stood in to receive the recognition — all while likely worrying about their loved ones, who safely returned to Station 85 minutes after the ceremony ended. The responding crews doused a vehicle that caught fire in the garage. They were able to save the house.
More than 100 people attended the event that celebrated firefighters’ commitment to the community, the fire department and each other. The ceremony also served as the department’s 50th anniversary kick off. Master of Ceremonies Capt. Tom Anselmo said when the fire department opened its first station in 1963 the small crew protected just a few homes occupied by early residents. Today, about 42,000 people call El Dorado Hills home and the department has grown to 90 volunteer/paid staff and four stations.
Fire Chief Dave Roberts credited his staff, the department’s extended family and the community for the department’s successful growth and operation. “We couldn’t do it without your support,” he said. “We couldn’t do it without your love.”
He also commended the department’s founders who laid a strong foundation 50 years ago that “has allowed this organization to accomplish things others only dream of.”
Many of those accomplishments involve community outreach. Each year the department hosts events that promote fire safety, raise funds and help people in need. The most popular event is arguably the Santa Run, for which Todd Thalhamer received the Most Valuable Elf award.
“Todd has taken the Santa Run to another level,” said presenter Dennis Ferguson.
For his work helping people in the community, firefighter Mike Gygax received the Customer Service award. Gygax finds the people who need community support and does everything he can to help, Chief Roberts commented. Gygax was instrumental in putting together Shane’s Village, which helps leukemia patient Shane Rogers and his family.
Allan Orr earned the Internal Customer Service award and firefighter/engineer Matt Belleci was recognized for receiving the Rotary Club of El Dorado Hills’ Firefighter of the Year award. The most volunteer responses award went to John VanDalen who was out on call No. 248. Ryan Wolfe and Lucas Frey received their paramedic certifications and Jack Stinson and Jerome Braddock were pinned as the department’s new volunteer firefighters.
Firefighters and the public also got their first look at a new addition to Station 85’s wall. Engineer Rob Karnow created a display featuring the department motto, “Proud to Serve,” complete with a golden firefighter helmet.
Anniversaries were also recognized Friday.
10 years of service
Firefighter/paramedic Jeff Cummins
Firefighter/paramedic Dale Hemstalk
Firefighter/paramedic Bryan Ferry
Firefighter/paramedic Stacy Minnich
Lt. Bob Hughes
15 years of service
Capt. Tom Anselmo
Capt. Brian Bresnahan
Capt. John Johnston
Capt. Hank Ferlini
Lt. Todd Thalhamer
20 years of service
Capt. Dave Merino
Capt. Chris Storz
Lt. Mike Roppolo
25 years of service
El Dorado Hills Fire Board Director Greg Durante
Fire Chief Dave Roberts