Teen’s emotional appearance keys theme of police, fire service awards
Police officers and firefighters were the ones getting the awards, but it was a teenager in a wheelchair who stole the show Tuesday at the town’s annual Public Safety Awards program.
On hand to help honor the first responders who came to her aid the morning of a May 27 crash was 19-year-old Lee Faiga. The Fairfield Warde High School student was a passenger in a Jeep driven by a friend that morning that slammed into a utility pole after leaving campus, snapping it in half and seriously injuring her.
Unresponsive when Police Officer Mark Fracassini arrived on the scene, Faiga spent time in a medically induced coma at Yale-New Haven Hospital. After the three police officers and six firefighters received their awards for responding to the scene, Lee’s mother, Rachel, addressed the crowd.
“We don’t know how to thank you,” a visibly moved Rachel Faiga said. She said every move made by firefighters and police officers that day “brought our baby back to us. Thank you all, from the bottom of our hearts.”
And then, with help Lee stood up from the wheelchair, her efforts greeted by a standing ovation.
Public Safety Awards
Life Saving Medal: Officer James Pauciello, Officer William Beattie
Chief’s Recognition Medal: Officer Tiffanie Bennett, Officer James Wiltsie, Officer Anthony Renaldi
Unit Citation: Pauciello, Officer Mark Fracassini, Officer Mark Letsch, Officer Kevin Wells, K-9 Ruger,
Educational Award: Capt. Donald Smith
Joseph S. Elias Meritorious Service Medal: Firefighter David Mitkowski
Unit Citation of Valor: Lt. Scott Trembley, Firefighters Joseph Galla, Mitkowski, Edward Riggs, Gregory Swindon, Timothy Ward
David W. Russell Exceptional Medical Service Award: Lt. William Tuttle, Lt. Jeffrey Edmondson, Lt. Brian McHugh, Lt. Patrick Barry, Firefighters Richard Bassett, Richard Kazzi, Richard Carlo, Craig Vaporis, Dominic Cocchia, Francis Zwierlein, III, Jeffrey DeNitto, William Malkin
“This reminds us of why we are actually here tonight,” Police Chief Gary MacNamara said.
The awards night was also an opportunity to honor Firefighter Frederick H. Letsch Jr., who died shortly after battling a fire in the former Sunrise Market in November 1981. Letsch’s name was added this year to the Fallen Firefighter Memorial at the Connecticut Fire Academy in Windsor Locks.
Letsch’s wife found him unresponsive in their yard, and he succumed to injuries incurred during the fire.
Firefighter Rick Kazzi was there that day, and even though it was 34 years ago, Kazzi’s voice still trembled with emotion.
“It was a long time ago, I was a new guy,” Kazzi said. Firefighters, he said, got out of the building just before it collapsed. “It’s not something I’ll ever forget.” When fellow firefighters learned that Letsch had died, he said, “It was devastating... It was a very difficult time for us.”
First Selectman Michael Tetreau said the award night was important for the families of the town’s emergency personnel. “This is one those jobs where you don’t get to take your kids to work,” Tetreau said, adding he has a much greater appreciation for the work they do, after losing one of his brother’s last week.
Newly appointed Fire Chief Denis McCarthy said his job is made that much easier because of the cooperation and collaboration that happens between the fire and police departments.
“To our recipients, your sacrafice is real,” McCarthy said. “Your courage and compassion is remarkable.”