Suffolk Fire & Rescue honors its best

Published 5:03 pm Tuesday, November 16, 2021

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Suffolk Fire & Rescue honored its best and highlighted the department’s retirees and the hiring of 45 firefighters during its eighth annual awards and recognition ceremony.

“Service is the most noble of any action,” said Fire Chief Mike Barakey. “This is why we stop one time a year to honor those who went above and beyond.”

The department had previously announced the honors for firefighter, paramedic and officer of the year in February and held its ceremony Nov. 4.

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Lt. Lucas Weaver, who has been with the department since 2001 and is a master firefighter, received the firefighter of the year award. He has completed his associate degree in occupational safety and health, became the chairman of the department’s health and safety committee in 2015 and has been a member of the technical rescue team, attaining technician level.

Weaver also received the department’s medal of merit for his work with the health and safety committee and implementation of a cancer prevention initiative. He was also praised for his work in improving the department’s health and wellness.

Amy Dunn-Brown, a Firefighter/Medic II and member of Suffolk Fire & Rescue since 2011, received the department’s paramedic of the year honor. Dunn-Brown helps train other advanced life support providers to maintain their certifications and coordinated the department’s MDA “Fill the Boot” campaign for two years.

Capt. Leon “Bubba” Ratliff, the department’s training captain who has directed 14 recruit academies — including a joint academy with Portsmouth Fire & Emergency Medical Services — received the officer of the year award. He also helps with bringing National Fire Academy and Virginia Department of Fire Programs training courses to the department. He is also assigned to manage the personal protective equipment for operations personnel and the city during the coronavirus pandemic.

Jeremy Gould, George Best and Corey Powell received the medal of valor, while Travis Saunders, Craig Steele, Michael Joseph, Daniel Viejo and Todd Helmick received the medal of honor and Battalion Chiefs Steve Johnson and Demitri Wilson received the certificate of commendation for their efforts Sept. 9, 2020, in helping Isle of Wight County with search and rescue efforts due to flash flooding in Smithfield. While helping several Smithfield residents to safety, they were asked to respond to another location in Smithfield for an elderly man trapped in a pickup truck on a bridge due to fast-moving water.

“The courage displayed by all involved, risking their own personal safety in commission of saving a life was without a doubt the truest measure of bravery,” Deputy Fire Chief Ted Adams said during the ceremony.

Firefighter Manuel Franco and Corey Stephens also received the medal of honor for their work during a March 20 single-vehicle accident on Portsmouth Boulevard. The vehicle was in the water, and these two jumped into the water to help multiple people who were trapped.

“What makes this an extraordinary rescue is the fact that the car was underwater and they used the jaws of life — the (hydraulic) spreaders — to get this person untrapped from under there, and they couldn’t see what they were doing,” Adams said. “The water was so murky they were working by feel to get this person out from being trapped in the car. They did a great job that day and saved a life.”

For their work during the same accident, Wilson, Battalion Chief Barney Howard, John Oliver, David Russell, Derrick Felton, Travis Lancaster, Ashton Felts, Lt. Eric Thompson, James Schmeling, Brian Bunting, Roy Barry, Greg Temme, Ashleigh Oszust, Robert Grant, Saunders, Helmick, Dave Devine, Robert Young III and Captain Raphael Brown, along with their crews, were also honored with certificates of commendation and a unit citation.

Adams noted that the accident was anything but routine, and reports through dispatch were noting multiple entrapped people in the water and possible amputations.

Tim Sherman received a certificate of meritorious conduct, a civilian award, for performing CPR on a family member who had gone into cardiac arrest.

Numerous others also received certificates of commendation for their efforts in responding to various incidents.

The ceremony also honored Barakey for his leadership in getting Suffolk Fire & Rescue to be a participating agency in Virginia Task Force 2, one of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 28 specialized urban search and rescue teams throughout the country responding nationally to emergencies and disasters. Suffolk has six members of the task force, with some who deployed during the building collapse in south Florida, the first deployment with the team.

The Fire Chief’s Award of Excellence went to Allen Lancaster, who died in August. After he retired from the U.S. Navy in 2001, Lancaster moved to Suffolk two years later and served as the chaplain for the department for 16 years. Barakey presented the award to members of his family, including Allen Lancaster’s wife, Darlene Lancaster, who said serving as chaplain for Suffolk Fire & Rescue “was the greatest honor of his life.”

“With Chaplain Lancaster’s passing,” Barakey said, “we have a void in our hearts.”



Battalion Chief: Chris Cornwell, Nick Savage

Captain: Christopher Hale, Steven Speight, Jeff Matthews

Lieutenant: Lucas Weaver, Ryan Budd, Daniel Everett, Waylon Drake, Brian Grasser