By Erich Wagner
Kelsea Bonkowski said it’s been a hard year after the death of paramedic Joshua Weissman, who died falling off of an I-395 overpass while responding to a burning vehicle in February 2012.
“We keep having memorials for him,” said Bonkowski, who’s the EMS supervisor for the fire department. “And we’re going to have another one at the National [EMS Memorial] Service in Colorado next week.”
Bonkowski and six of her fire department colleagues received silver medals for their attempts to save Weissman at the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce’s 27th annual Public Safety Valor Awards on June 13 in Old Town. She said giving Weissman the posthumous honor of the gold medal, the highest award for valor and heroism, was a kind gesture to his family.
“It means a lot to them,” she said. “It’s nice to see his legacy continue and people still providing so much support.”
The city council is poised to name the fire department’s professional development facility after Weissman. The move comes at the behest of Fire Chief Adam Thiel, who said friends and family urged him to pursue the dedication because of the slain paramedic’s devotion to self-improvement.
Other fire officials honored with silver medals were Lt. David Bogozi, firefighters Kenneth Salfelder, Chizoba Okoli and Stuart Smothers, and paramedics Charlie Curia and Robert Honaker.
Also among the award recipients was officer Peter Laboy, who received a silver medal for talking down a suicidal man during a 30-minute standoff in October. In his first public appearance since being shot in the head on duty earlier this year, he appeared mobile and spoke quietly with fellow officers.
Police Chief Earl Cook said following the ceremony it’s important to highlight the risk that first responders take every day to keep residents safe.
“You can never take for granted the public servants that put themselves in harm’s way,” Cook said. “They’re risk-takers. They say, ‘I’ll be the barrier between you and something bad happening time and again.’”
Police officer Frank McGrigg, honored with a bronze medal for his work with other officers to calm down a suicidal Army veteran, said that although he also received an award last year, it’s always a good feeling to be recognized by the community.
“It’s good to know that the city, the people, the citizens of Alexandria appreciate our work,” McGrigg said. “A lot of us don’t get recognition on a regular basis. There are a lot who do the same things we do, but they’re not on this stage today.”
Lifesaving Award recipients included deputy sheriff Brian Bell, police officers Nicolette Clara, Tony Moore, Carl Stowe and Misti Battle, and investigator Bret McCabe. Officer Douglass Serven II received the certificate of valor. Officers Frank Powers, Kevin Jobe and Anthony Gorham received bronze medals.