|Honorees at Saturday’s Firefighters Appreciation Dinner are, from left, Dennis Sliney, Gene Lombardo, Michael Terriquez, Alfonso M. Razo, Thomas French, Cody Bevan and Christina Speer. (Stacy Moore, Hi-Desert Star|
Honorees praise their families
By Stacy Moore
Hi-Desert StarJOSHUA TREE — “Our motto is service above self, and that’s what you give every day,” Shannon Luckino, president of the Yucca Valley Noon Rotary, told a room full of firefighters at an annual appreciation dinner Saturday.
Held at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, the dinner is hosted by the Twentynine Palms Rotary and Yucca Valley Noon Rotary Clubs.
Firefighters from Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley, Homestead Valley and Joshua Tree National Park along with Wonder Valley, Twentynine Palms and the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center were honored in the evening’s awards ceremony.
“We’re here for you tonight because you’re always there for us,” Luckino told the room full of uniformed men and women.
The firefighters themselves thanked their loved ones often and earnestly.
Led by Division Chief Gary Benedict of the San Bernardino County Fire Department, they stood to give their spouses and significant others an ovation.
“We can’t do our jobs without your support,” Benedict said.
A member of the Black Rock crew, Christina Speer, was honored as Firefighter of the Year for the National Park Service.
“Your actions have exemplified the highest ideals of your profession,” Superintendent Mark Butler told Speer. “Your performance has earned the respect and admiration of your colleagues.”
Speer said it’s she who is grateful to the Hi-Desert and her peers. “It’s a very great honor to serve the community I grew up in,” she told the crowd. “I’m very blessed to be here.”
Dennis Sliney is the Morongo Valley Community Services District’s Firefighter of the Year.
After serving in the U.S. Army from 1992 to 1994, Sliney went on to graduate from the Victor Valley Fire Academy. He’s continued to train and improve himself, Chief Curtis Hooper said. Sliney received a Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice and an associates degree in fire science, and recently attended a FEMA course to become a hazardous materials technician.
“He’s always there helping us out and going the extra mile for us,” Hooper said.
His trophy in hand, Sliney thanked the community. “Thank you for all you do for us,” he said.
Michael Terriquez is Firefighter of the Year for Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting agency.
The 39-year-old father of two was born in East Los Angeles. “He grew up in a neighborhood where you had to know defense tactics to survive,” Chief Rod Delgado said.
Terriquez took up boxing at age 7 and graduated from Garfield High School, made famous by the film “Stand and Deliver” about algebra teacher Jaime Elscalante.
He became a paid-call firefighter in Highland in 2001. “The program required a PCF put in a minimum of 60 hours per month. Mike regularly put in in excess of 300 hours,” Delgado told the audience.
A member of the Cal Fire Station in Yucca Valley for the past two seasons, Terriquez distinguished himself with his work ethic, Delgado said.
“Mike’s determination to better himself is evident every day. I don’t think he takes a moment to slow down,” the chief said.
“He’s the type of firefighter you can put your faith in.”
Holding his award, Terriquez put the praise back on his colleagues and leaders.
“I stand before you a humble man. I did not expect to receive this recognition,” he said. Gesturing to the Cal Fire captains and engineers, he said, “Their dedication to the community and the fire service is beyond words.”
He acknowledged his daughters and wife as well, telling them, “Thank you for the sacrifices you make for my career.”
For the county Fire Department’s Homestead Valley station, Gene Lombardo, a paid-call firefighter, was the Firefighter of the Year.
“This guy here got 1480 on his SATs,” a bemused Benedict told the audience. “Who does that?”
After attending the University of California, Irvine, Lombardo decided to join the fire service. He also earned a contractor’s license and puts his remodeling skills to use at the fire house.
“The greatest thing is the determination we see in him,” Benedict said.
The chief described Lombardo’s actions on “a particularly nasty call in bad weather” on the 40 freeway — a car crash where the occupants were trapped. “There are no resources out there and the airships couldn’t come in because of the weather,” Benedict said. “Not only did he perform the extrication and assist in treating critically injured patients with few resources, he jumped into the ambulance and went with them to the Barstow medical center. Who does that?”
Lombardo thanked Benedict for his accolades. “With my deepest gratitude, it is my honor and privilege to accept this award,” he said.
Dave Faller is the Firefighter of the Year for the county’s Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley stations.
Starting out as a paid-call firefighter, Faller put himself through the fire academy and paramedic school, Benedict said.
For Faller, the chief said, “It all comes down to his perpetual smile. Show them your smile,” he told the firefighter, who had been beaming since he walked into the room.
“Do it again, I missed it,” another fireman called out from the audience to more laughter.
Faller has shepherded the Fire Explorer program in the Basin. “Dave takes the program and it goes from six individuals and not a lot of gear to 17 individuals and he held fundraisers to get them all safety gear,” Benedict said.
Faller teaches at the fire academy and leads drills and training among the local agencies.
“If I call for help, I’m proud to see Dave walk into the house,” Benedict concluded.
Faller said he enjoys working in the community where he grew up and went to school.
“There’s not enough thanks I can give to my wife and kids for the support they give to me,” he told his colleagues.
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