|By Chris Maza|
GREATER SPRINGFIELD Fourteen individuals representing local law enforcement and dispatch were honored on June 4 at the Massachusetts State 911 Department's annual awards ceremony at Mechanics Hall in Worcester.
East Longmeadow Police Officer Scott Skala was recognized for his part in ensuring the safety of a 14-year-old town resident Amanda Hill during a July 27, 2012 incident.
Hill was home alone and called the police when a break-in at her residence occurred. Skala was working at the Police Department's front desk when she reported that a suspicious man on a bicycle was knocking on the door, according to information provided by the State 911 Department.
East Longmeadow Police Chief Douglas Mellis further explained that the suspect then gained entrance to the home through a window, prompting Hill to hide in a bedroom closet while remaining on the phone.
Officers entered the house through the same window and found the intruder hiding in a closet.
"Officer Skala stayed on the phone with her the entire time and relayed information she was giving him to the officers who were responding and the guy was caught," Mellis said. "He's being honored for his handling of this call and making sure she remained safe."
Mellis added that in addition to recognition for Skala, the department was working on an honor for Hill.
"We are having a plaque made and we intend to give it to her to recognize how she was able to remain calm and cool and assist the police in capturing the suspect," he said.
In addition to Skala, 13 members of the Springfield Police and Fire Communications Department were honored for their efforts during two major disasters one natural and one unnatural.
"The dispatch function is a critical component of the Public Safety Team. In many cases a citizen in crisis makes first contact with a 911 call taker. The professionalism and expertise of 911 call takers and dispatchers has a tremendous impact on the outcome of emergencies and critical incidents," Springfield Police Commissioner William Fichet said. "I compliment our award winners and thank all of our 911 personnel for their diligence, compassion, and dedication."
Joyce Buchanan, Dove Anna Frierson, Cassandra Godfrey Henderson, Charles Kaercher, Janet Lavallee, Justine Marotte, Amanda Provost, Jeris Mitchell, Penny McCarthy, Robin McCarthy, Anita Paquin, Chris Roberts and Zygmont Szczawinski all received awards for their part in maintaining emergency response services during the June 1, 2011 tornado and the Nov. 23, 2012 gas explosion that rocked downtown Springfield.
On the day of the tornado, the police had not yet completed a six-week renovation of its primary public safety answering point (PSAP) in the Police Department headquarters, so dispatching services were being housed temporarily in trailers in the department's parking lot.
Despite the less than ideal surroundings and the fact that many employees feared their own homes and families were victims of the storm, dispatchers remained at their post and continued taking calls from residents who were trapped or injured.
When the gas explosion occurred, fire dispatchers were pivotal in determining the whereabouts of all fire responders on scene and coordinating the need for additional EMS crews. Police 911 staff, meanwhile, was overwhelmed with calls from frightened citizens, according to the State 911 Department.
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