By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
La Mesa Chamber of Commerce held its annual The Salute to Local Heroes on March 14 at the Town & Country Resort in Mission Valley. The annual event honors local police fire and paramedic personnel who stand out in their respective departments.
This year’s winners from American Medical Response (AMR) were paramedics Christian Grote and Aaron Thomas, who were chosen for their empathetic demeanor while dealing with emergencies on the job. In introducing the pair, AMR manager Joe Hunt described their kindness to the people they serve.
“It is always difficult for a paramedic to learn how to have the natural ability to bring calm to a frightening situation or ease the mind of a confused and scared patient,” he said. “Christian and Aaron make it look easy. They are exceptional and compassionate caregivers and that’s what sets them apart from the rest.”
This year’s hero from Heartland Fire & Rescue, Engineer Dean Sergent, was honored for his community service on and off the job.
“Dean at work is the epitome of what we are looking for in our members. I wish I had 60 more just like him,” Heartland Chief Steve Swaney said. “But it is what Dean does off duty is what makes him special — him giving back.”
Sergent runs the operations of Heartland’s Fire Explorer program where young adults, age 14 to 20, get hands-on experience riding fire engines and participating in station activities to explore careers as first responders. Sergent also recently organized Heartland’s first Explorer Academy and will travel to Northern California in April be an advisor to the regional Explorer Academy.
Sergent is also a member of Heartland’s PEER Support Team that makes contact with members and families when they experience life challenges.
La Mesa Police Department Crime Analyst Erin Jones was the first four LMPD officers to be recognized.
“Over the last year, officers and detectives made a lot of great arrests, but it was not possible without Erin’s help,” said LMPD Chief Walt Vasquez.
As a crime analyst, Jones updates the department on crime trends and monitors all the BOLs (be on the look outs) that keep officers and citizens aware of criminal activity.
“She is in constant contact with other crime analysts and often provides them with suspect information for crimes that occurred in their jurisdictions,” Vasquez said.
Jones is also president of the San Diego Crime and Intelligence Analysts Association; serves as chair of Automated Regional Justice Information System Business Working Group; and is also a guest lecturer at San Diego State University on the topic of criminal justice theory.
Det. Ryan Gremillion was honored for his work investigating cold case homicides. This year, he solved the case of victim Scott Martinez, who was murdered in 2006. Gremillion re-opened the case in 2016 and using blood evidence from the scene and a new DNA technique called familial genealogy, he was able to determine a suspect and coordinate his arrest. The suspect is currently awaiting trial on murder charges.
“Recently I read a report that said you have about a 4 percent chance of solving a murder case that’s 10 years old or older. Pretty amazing,” said Chief Vasquez. “This case would not have been solved had it not been for Det. Gremillion’s hard work and dedication, not only to this case, but to the department and Mr. Martinez’s family.”
Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol (RSVP) officers Johnny Florez and Mike Sparks were also honored for their work with LMPD.
Florez has been a volunteer for over four years and has contributed over 2,200 hours of service. In addition to patrol duties, he also manages the RSVP fleet of vehicles.
This year’s Local Heroes award will be Sparks’ second. He has served the department for four years with over 2,300 hours of service.
Sparks is the RSVP training officer and this last December, he headed up a Holiday Special Detail that reduced crime at Grossmont Center.
A new ‘Hero’
In addition to the usual awards given to first responders, there was a surprise award given that was kept off the evening’s program. After the swearing-in ceremony for the chamber’s new officers, chamber board member Laurel Cruz bestowed upon chamber president and CEO Mary England the first ever Mary England Community Service Award.
The new award recognizes people from the community who give back to the community through events or organizations. England was honored for her chamber events like the Seniors Holiday Project that gathers food and other essentials for homebound seniors during the holidays, as well as the Military Families Toy Drive that supplies toys for local families of service members.
“We wanted to make sure to recognize your efforts and created this award in your honor,” Cruz said.
For more information about La Mesa Chamber of Commerce events and activities, visit lamesachamber.com.
— Reach Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.