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2020 Ohio Fire Service Hall of Fame Award Recipients

Citizen Award

Steve Pozniak

In the early morning hours of Jan. 26, 2020, Steve Pozniak was working as a security guard at a Cleveland apartment complex when he heard screaming from a nearby townhouse.

Pozniak quickly arrived on scene and, after observing an 8-year-old girl leaning out of a third-story window, leaped atop his security vehicle and beckoned the child to jump. In an incredible act of trust, the girl overcame her fear and jumped, allowing Pozniak to break her fall and escaping the blaze uninjured.

Crews with the Cleveland Fire Department then arrived and ran into the burning building to rescue the girl’s 2-year-old sister, whose mother and 6-year-old brother were also able to escape the fire safely.

The quick and heroic actions of Steve Pozniak are directly responsible for preventing a tragedy and safely reuniting a child with her family. His unwavering bravery and dedication is a great credit to himself, the city of Cleveland, and the state of Ohio.

Marcus Brigham

On Oct. 3, 2019, an elderly Dayton man found himself trapped in the basement of his Clement Avenue home after discovering smoke coming from an electrical outlet on the first floor. With no means of escape and no line of sight to the street, the night could have had a tragic end for this man if not for the efforts of neighborhood resident Marcus Brigham.
As the home continued to fill with smoke and flames, Brigham heard the man’s calls of distress coming from the basement window. Acting quickly, Brigham and another resident were able to remove the window and safely rescue the man from the burning structure.

His quick and decisive actions are directly responsible for saving a man’s life and allowing the Dayton Fire Department to take control of the fire upon their arrival. Marcus Brigham is a great credit to himself, the city of Dayton, and the state of Ohio.

Christopher Papouras

In the early morning hours of March 1, 2020, Christopher Papouras was jarred awake by the sound of a car crash outside his West Hill Drive home in Gates Mills. Bursting from his home, he ran to the scene and discovered a vehicle had struck a boulder and flipped onto its passenger side. While the driver managed to escape, the passenger was still trapped inside the now-burning vehicle.

Papouras approached the vehicle and attempted to gain access to the passenger by widening a hole in the windshield with his bare hands. He then quickly retrieved a sledgehammer from his home and used it to open the windshield enough to safely pull the victim away from the flames.

After police and fire crews arrived on the scene, Papouras was transported to a nearby hospital where he received treatment for cuts to his hands and arms sustained during the rescue.

Had it not been for his quick and decisive actions, only one person may have escaped the wreckage safely. Christopher Papouras is a credit to himself, the Gates Mills Fire Department, and the state of Ohio.

Distinguished Service Award

Jack Rupp

Firefighters don’t just make a commitment to a career; they make a lifelong vow to protect the people they love and improve the quality of life in their communities. Through his unwavering dedication and exceptional leadership, Jack Rupp has devoted nearly 50 years to making a difference and improving the fire service in his community.

Rupp began his fire service career in Madison Township, where he served for more than 29 years before retiring from the department in 2000. Throughout his tenure with Madison Township, his titles included firefighter/paramedic, EMS officer, company officer, battalion commander and executive officer.

Rupp was named assistant chief of the Plain Township Fire Department in Franklin County in 2002. On July 23, 2020, he was sworn in as chief of the department and currently oversees a roster of 38 full-time firefighters.

Few active firefighters can match Rupp’s accomplishments, longevity and continued desire to make Ohio’s fire service operate more efficiently for the people of this great state. Beyond his work in the fire house, Rupp has dedicated his time to additional organizations to support his community. He served as chair of the Metropolitan Emergency Communications Center operations board, was a member of the Central Ohio Strike Team, director of the south-central district of the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Association (OFCA), as well as chair of the OFCA’s Safety, Health and Wellness Committee – where he has been instrumental in assisting with the development of legislation and key projects aimed at improving the wellbeing of our firefighters.

Rupp is passionate about continuing to hone his skills through both formal and technical training. As a certified paramedic, he was appointed to serve on the Ohio EMS Board and is a founding member of the Franklin County Firefighters/Grant Medical Center Paramedic Program – one of the largest and most respected programs of its kind in the Midwest. He is also a public safety instructor, fire safety inspector, and HAZMAT technician.

His leadership, influence, and desire to serve are an inspiration to those around him, including his three sons who have all vowed to follow in their father’s footsteps through their own careers in the fire service.

Chief Jack Rupp’s dedication to his community and lifetime of service are a great credit to himself, the Plain Township Fire Department, Ohio’s fire service, and the state of Ohio.

Scott Skeldon

As a family man, Scott Skeldon knows the importance of being there for the ones you love when they need you the most. As a career firefighter, he has spent the last four decades of his life dedicated to doing the very same thing for those in his community.

Skeldon began his fire service career in 1978 when he joined the Jefferson Township Fire Department as a volunteer firefighter – a role he serves with pride to this day. In the years that followed, he extended his service to several other departments throughout Ohio, including the Clinton Township Fire Department, Prairie Township Fire Department, Norwich Township Fire Department, and the Jerome Township Fire Department, where he retired as chief in 2017.

His passion for public safety prompted him to pursue a number of advanced qualifications in his field. In addition to being a state-certified firefighter and EMT, Skeldon is also a fire safety inspector, hazardous materials technician and juvenile fire setter educator. He also holds state and national incident command certifications and is a journeyman firefighter through the International Association of Firefighters.

Skeldon’s desire to move the fire service forward has gone far beyond his work in the firehouse. Throughout his career, he has devoted his time to serving his brothers and sisters through involvement in the Ohio State Fire Council, the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Association, the Fire Chief’s Association of Central Ohio, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs. He was also part of the Franklin County Firefighters Association, and the International Association of Firefighters, as well as many other groups and committees.

He is currently an active member of the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters and the Ohio State Firefighters Association, where he serves as vice president.

Aside from his decades of service at the fire department, Skeldon’s unwavering dedication to public safety is reflected in his involvement in the Union County Emergency Management Agency and Madison County Emergency Management Agency, as well as the sheriff’s offices of both counties. He also currently serves on the Tolles Career and Technical Center’s High School Career Firefighting Advisory Board.

While no one enters the fire service with the goal of receiving praise from their peers, Skeldon’s contributions have not gone unnoticed. He has received many notable awards through his work with Union County, including the 2004 Union County Sheriff’s Office Leadership Award and the 2005 Union County Chamber of Commerce Leadership Award for Safety and Service. He has also received numerous awards from Tolles Career and Technical Center.

He was the recipient of the 2006 Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters’ Fire Chief of the Year Award and the 2008 Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Association Distinguished Service Award. Five years later, Skeldon’s career longevity was recognized yet again with the Ohio State Firefighters Association’s Myron George Distinguished Service Award. Skeldon was also inducted into the MARCS Communications Hall of Fame in 2017, for his many years of service on the MARCS Funding Task Force.

Chief Scott Skeldon’s selfless service to his community and outstanding leadership should serve as inspiration to all future firefighters of Ohio. He is a great credit to himself, Ohio’s fire service, and the state of Ohio.

First Responder Award

Josh Robertson

On July 6, 2019, the Heights Hillcrest Dispatch Center received a report of a house fire on Greyton Road in Cleveland shortly before 1 a.m. Cleveland Heights Police Officer Josh Robertson and his partner were the first to respond to the scene and, upon their arrival, learned a 6-year-old boy was still inside the home.

Without hesitation, Robertson crawled inside the burning structure and braved heavy smoke to find the child. Despite high heat and low visibility, Robertson was able to locate the unconscious child and pull him out of the home to safety.

The quick and heroic efforts by Officer Josh Robertson are directly responsible for saving a child from a burning home and preventing an almost certain tragedy.

He is a great credit to himself, his family, the Cleveland Heights Police Department, and the state of Ohio.

Valor Award

Ryan Sprunger

On Dec. 22, 2019, firefighter Ryan Sprunger of the East Wayne Joint Fire District was on his way to the fire station when he intercepted a call reporting two people who had fallen through the ice of a family pond.
Upon arrival, Sprunger discovered 6-year-old Landon Hodge and his grandfather, 56-year-old Todd Farriss, clinging to the ice shelf and immediately began rescue attempts. When a rope proved too short to reach the pair, Sprunger donned a life jacket and carefully ventured into the freezing pond.

When he reached the stranded victims, Sprunger tied the rope around Landon first so he could be safely pulled from the pond. Once the child was safe, he repeated the process with the Farriss until both were on stable ground and awaiting medical attention.

As Farriss reached the shore, he informed rescuers a second child was still underwater. Though responders were able to retrieve 4-year-old Jenson Hodge from the water and successfully perform CPR, the boy tragically passed away several days later.

Although the community still mourns the tragedy of that day, Sprunger’s quick and heroic actions are directly responsible for giving two people a second chance at life. Firefighter Ryan Sprunger is a great credit to himself, the East Wayne Joint Fire District, and the state of Ohio.

Ohio Fire Department of the Year

Erie Valley Fire & Rescue, Erie Valley, Ohio

Erie Valley Fire & Rescue fire department was formed by a joint venture between the Village of Navarre and Bethlehem Township in 2016, to provide more resources and a more advanced life support/firefighting crew to their communities.
Since 2016, Erie Valley Fire & Rescue has seen an increase by 42% in emergency call volume, while decreasing response time from 13-17 minutes to three minutes. Mutual aid requests were virtually eliminated.

CFFD is active in local public education and fire training, primarily through its youth-based organization, the Northwest Fire Explorer Post. Chartered through Learning for Life, the department was awarded the National Junior Volunteer Firefighter Program of the year award in 2016. In 2018, a graduating explorer was recognized as the National Junior Firefighter of the Year.

Erie Valley Fire & Rescue has prioritized training of its first responders since its inception through realistic and effective emergency medical service and fire training while using the most up-to-date equipment. With the addition of The Fire Prevention Bureau in 2018, they now have a roster of six instructors that teach classes to healthcare providers and to the public in CPR and first aid. Positive community relationships as well as safer homes are created through community fire prevention programs such as free home safety inspections, fire alarm installation programs and a community-wide Fire Prevention Week.

Their growth continued in 2020 by increasing staffing levels of fire and EMS personnel to 24-hours a day, seven days a week. The personnel at Erie Valley Fire & Rescue prove through their daily commitment to excellence that they are truly dedicated to the safety of the residents of Navarre Village and Bethlehem Township.

Ohio Fire Officer of the Year

Captain Grant Burns, Colerain Township Department of Fire and EMS

Captain Grant Burns has served 33 years at the Colerain Township Department of Fire and EMS, currently serving as the station captain for Station 103, the Unit 2 training coordinator for station training, and the special operations training officer.
His efforts in research, development, and administrative reviews has resulted in extensive improvements to the department’s Standard Operations Guidelines (SOG’s), updates to the department’s rescue tactics, and enhancement of the department’s extrication equipment. Capt. Burns’ research, tactics and SOG recommendations are shared with the Hamilton County’s Mid-West Fire Chief’s group and put into action through these departments’ automatic aid agreement.

Capt. Grant Burns has earned the appreciation and respect of the Colerain Township community and neighboring areas through his efforts on behalf of the Colerain Township Department of Fire and EMS.

Ohio Fire Service Instructor of the Year

Lieutenant Scott Wallace, Dayton Fire Department

Over the past 25 years of service in the Ohio Fire Service, Lieutenant Scott Wallace has earned a reputation of dedication and passion for instruction in his chosen profession. For more than 15 years, he has served as the lead instructor for multiple Dayton Fire Department recruit academies and the Dayton Fire Department Training Center, and has developed initiatives, programs and improvements that benefit the students directly and the department fundamentally.

With the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020, Lt. Wallace reimagined the comprehensive, full-time academy class and transformed it into a well-fortified training academy in order to best protect recruits and other personnel from the pandemic while ensuring an environment conducive to learning. This accomplishment required a sacrifice of time with his family in order to honor the commitment he made to his students and his community.

Western Ohio is indebted to Lt. Scott Wallace for his vision in improving fire service education, his ability to realize his plans, and his dedication to the Ohio Fire Service.

Ohio Fire Prevention Educator of the Year

Firefighter Josh Whitehead, West Carrollton Fire Department

Firefighter Josh Whitehead has served the West Carrollton Department for 11 years, as firefighter, paramedic and fire prevention educator. He has earned a reputation in the West Carrollton community as a role model in fire prevention education.

Firefighter Whitehead has coordinated most of the fire prevention activities for the fire department, fitting a variety of activities into an impressive schedule which is designed to keep the traditional events and include new ones to inspire participants. The smoke detector program coordinated with school districts and schools, reaching more than 400 families. Other projects are the Home Escape Plan, Fire Safety Night, and Junior Fire Academy.

Firefighter Josh Whitehead has been dedicated to his fire department, to the training of fire personnel, and has been selfless in his efforts to provide fire education to the residents of West Carrollton.

Ohio Fire Educator Lifetime Achievement Award

Chief Jim Steele, Van Wert Fire Department

For 37 of the past 40 years as a firefighter, Chief Jim Steele has also served the Van Wert Fire Department and community as an instructor. His service has encompassed the entire state of Ohio by leading the changes in Ohio’s training curriculum for many years, promoting professionalism throughout the fire service.

Chief Steele’s desire to uphold the highest levels of firefighter training and fire officer growth and development led him to serve as the chairperson for the Firefighter and Fire Safety Inspector Training Subcommittee with the Ohio Division of EMS; to act as a research paper evaluator for the Ohio Fire Executive Program; to become a participant in the Maxell Program: Designing Tomorrow’s Leaders, and to receive the 2010 Ohio Fire Chief’s Association Distinguished Service Award. Chief Steele remains active in the growth and development of future firefighters through his involvement with the Ohio Fire Chief’s Association of the Maxwell Program and the Fire Officer I & II programs.

Chief Jim Steele’s dedication and is unparalleled; his service is greatly appreciated.