By Mo Moore

Knights of Columbus honor Tulare County's finest in police and fire

We read some of their &#8220adventures” in the weekly crime log, but for Tulare County local fire fighters and police officers, their long hours and dedication - despite having very dangerous jobs - can easily go unnoticed. But not last Saturday night.

The Exeter and Farmersville Knights of Columbus hosted the 16th Annual Community Services Recognition Awards Dinner honoring the California Highway Patrol, the Tulare County Sheriff-Coroner, the Lemon Cove Volunteer Fire Department, the Lindsay Police Department and both Exeter's and Farmersville's Fire and Police Departments. Each division choose to honor one or two individuals for their outstanding service and dedication in the field.

Mark Pascoe played Master of Ceremonies for the event, handing out the numerous plaques to honorees. Tulare County Fire Chief Steve Sunderland spoke at the dinner commending all who tirelessly work to make our communities safer places to live, as well as their families, who so often have to deal with their loved one's absence.

CHP Capt. Steve Sullivan presented Manuel &#8220Manny” Peregrina the award for his unwavering commitment to his job. The CHP officers themselves nominated and voted for the winner. Manny was the hands down choice. And it wasn't hard to see why. On June 24 of last year Peregrina stopped a vehicle for speeding, at which the driver, a man double Peregrina's size exited his vehicle, and wildly charged Peregrina and somehow gained control of his baton. The man struck Peregrina numerous times, until Peregrina got hold of his gun, fired and ended the attack. The whole event, which tool place on the center divider of Highway 99, left Officer Peregrina badly injured. Yet, when he was well enough to return to work, Peregrina returned with the same dedicated attitude as before. &#8220He continues to do his duties with the same commitment he's had from the start,” said Sullivan.

Sheriff Capt. Dahl Cleek honored Detective Larry Camacho who is known to his management staff as one officer who's not afraid to put in long hours. Camacho, who has been with the County since March 2000, has worked as a patrol officer and detective in the communities of Exeter, Farmersville and Woodlake. In 2005 he overcame injuries sustained during a routine traffic stop that suddenly turned violent. Shots were exchanged, leaving Camacho seriously injured. Camacho showed no hesitation to return to the field.

&#8220Since his service with us as a detective, he has worked thousands of cases,” said Cleek. &#8220He's been a very loyal and dedicated employee, no questions asked. He will work a case till the end. We call him our ‘bulldog.'”

Farmersville Police Chief Mario Krstic, Exeter Chief Clifton&#8220Cliff &#8220Bush and Lindsay Chief Ramone Figueroa stood together to provide their awards to their outstanding officers. They honored Exeter Sergeant Celis Rabena and Detective Bret Inglehart, Farmersville Detective Orlando Ortiz and Officer Matthew Sanchez and Lindsay Detective Ryan Heinks and Officer Christopher Hughes. The group of officers have worked together as part of the Tri-City Joint Task Force, a joint effort by all three cities to deal with the many connected crimes. A case for a single city used to be a one to two person job and would take months, but now with the task force in place eight to 10 investigators from different departments can work together on a case. Within nine months the Tri-City Joint Task Force resulted in over 47 felony arrests, 33 misdemeanor arrests, $120,000 of stolen property recovered and a pound and a half of meth seized. And the numbers keep growing.

&#8220Since the beginning, they have worked like a well oiled machine,” said Krstic.” They understand there is strength in unity. There is no ‘us against them' mentality.” In December, the Woodlake Police Department joined the task force making it a quad-city task force.

Exeter Fire Capt. Wes Grim presented the award to volunteer fire fighter Tom Von Grouw. Van Grouw was selected for the award by his peers. He has put in over 4,000 community service hours at the Exeter station, in addition to working in Visalia. In 2003 Van Grouw decided he wanted to become a career firefighter and this past November became a permanent fire fighter for a Visalia station. &#8220I want to say thank you to Exeter [Station] 11,” said Van Grouw. &#8220The teamwork is evident with every call.”

Farmersville Fire Chief John Crivello awarded Tommy Johnson as an outstanding fireman and individual. Johnson joined as a volunteer fire fighter in September of 2005. He has since become an integral part of the Farmersville Fire Department. &#8220There's no task he won't accomplish,” said Crivello. Crivello recently noticed that Johnson was scheduled to attend CPR training, even though was already thoroughly trained in this area. He let Johnson know that it was not mandatory to attend the additional training, to which Johnson replied, &#8220There's training going on Chief and I don't want to miss it.”

When it comes to Johnson's dedication the numbers speak for themselves, of the 744 calls Farmersville received last year, Tommy responded to 502. He logged over 225 hours of training last year and participated in many community service projects like the annual Christmas Tree Lighting and Memorial Day Parade and festivities.

For the Lemon Cove Volunteer Fire Department, Capt. Grim awarded Josh Bibey. The Lemon Cove Fire Station was down staffed last year leaving volunteers as the only line of defense. But volunteers like Bibey provide a level of service and dedication to that of a full-staffed station. Not only does Bibey work a full-time job, but cleans and maintains firehouse equipment, cleans the station itself and responds to calls. &#8220Josh has been an inspiration to me,” said Grim.

Certificates from the offices of County Supervisor Allen Ishida and Assemblyman Bill Maze (R-Visalia) were given to award winners as well. Bill Maze was on hand to present the awards himself.

&#8220It's vital we recognize these folks who dedicate their lives to people's needs,” said Maze. &#8220There are officers, like the ones whose stories we heard tonight, whose lives were put in danger and they deserve to be recognized for their courage and dedication.”

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