Knights of Columbus dinner recognizes first responders in Exeter, Farmersville, Woodlake who go above and beyond
By Crystal Havner
Special to the Sun-Gazette
EXETER – Public service is often a thankless job, especially when it comes to first responders. They are there when we need them the most, refuse credit for their life saving and self sacrificing efforts, and are rarely given the opportunity to meet those they save in the aftermath of a traumatic experience.
But at least one organization is trying to make sure to thank the courageous men and women who put themselves in harm’s way and protect us from felons and fire. On March 2, the Exeter/Farmersville Council of the Knights of Columbus held its 27th Annual Community Services Recognition Dinner to honor the police officers and firefighters of the year for Exeter, Farmersville, Woodlake and Tulare County.
Farmersville Fire Dept.
Fire Fighter Johnny Sanchez is one of the most active responders for the Farmersville fire department according to Farmersville Fire Capitan Jim Thomas. He graduated from the Porterville Fire Academy. He is a fire tech, med tech and a registered fire fighter 1 with the State of California. He has also trained in vehicle extraction.
He also works for American Ambulance.
“He works very hard,” said Thomas. “He responded to 203 calls in 2018. He is also the treasurer for the Farmersville Volunteer Fire Department.”
Sanchez said he has accomplished a lot of the goals he has set for himself and he is thankful for all the help he has received along the way.
“The captains and the lieutenants with the department have really helped me so much. They have taught me a lot and been supportive,” he said.
Tulare County Sheriff’s Office
Deputy Matt Conley has been with the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department for 10 years. He has a degree in history and taught in Woodlake. He has worked at the correctional facility, rehabilitation center and patrol. He is currently a drone operator and a sub-station field training officer.
He has worked with the Tulare County Peace Officers Memorial Fund. According to Captain Mark Gist he has helped to raise more than $150,000 for the fund which paid for the memorial statue and scholarships for children of fallen officers.
Gist said there was a crime wave going on in the Exeter, Lemon Cove and Lindcove areas involving shots being fired at residences and residential burglaries.
“He was able to gain witnesses trust and worked hard to get suspect info,” said Gist. “He was able to end that crime spree.”
Conley said, “I want to thank my family and the Knights of Columbus for putting on this event.”
California Highway Patrol
Officer Jeremy Grove worked in central Los Angeles after graduating from the California Highway Patrol Academy. He was stationed in Coalinga, Porterville and then Visalia where he has been for the last 10 years.
Sgt. Michael Wolfe said he has an excellent work ethic, has worked the swing shift for the last five years and performs a full range of duties.
“He is a wonderful example of how one man can make a difference. He has a calming aura about him which helps to calm people down,” said Wolfe.
Last years he investigated 100 collisions and made 50 arrest.
“He is a public servant and never expects any recognition,” said Wolfe. “That is why this event is so important. This is a grind and sometimes thankless job. The community coming out to support us tonight is great.”
Grove said, “I have to thank my wife for all her support. I appreciate the recognition. I have never worked in an area like Tulare County where all the agencies work together so well. So thanks to you all.”
Woodlake Police Dept.
Woodlake Police Officer Gustavo Canales is worthy of recognition because of his professional abilities and his dedication to the community of Woodlake, according to Woodlake Police Chief Mike Marquez.
“He is a prime example of what a police officer should be,” said Marquez. “He can be counted on on a day to day basis and is always willing to pick up the extra slack. He is willing to go the extra mile and displays great qualities as a role model to the youth. I commend his parents. They raised an outstanding man.”
Gustavo said he was thankful to Chief Marquez and the rest of the Woodlake Police Department and his family.
“I also want to congratulate the other recipients. I hope God Blesses you and keeps you safe,” he said.
Farmersville Police Dept.
Farmersville Police Officer Jesse McBride graduated from the Tulare/Kings Police Academy in 2013. He joined the Farmersville Police Department in June of 2013.He has worked patrol and as a school resource officer. He has become a traffic expert and a field training officer.
In 2015 he and another officer were involved in a life and death struggle with a suspect in an armed robbery.
“His courage showed during that event,” said Farmersville Police Chief Mario Krstic. “He has received this honor because of his body of work over the last six years. He is courteous and takes time to listen to witnesses, victims and even suspects.”
Krstic also thanked the Knights of Columbus for the dinner.
“Praise in our field of work doesn’t come often,” he said.
McBride said he wanted to thank the Farmersville Police Department.
“I really have to thank my family and my wife for all their support,” he said.
Exeter Police Dept.
Exeter Police Detective Curtis Hayes has led a life of public service according to Exeter Police chief John Hall.
“He started off as a volunteer fire fighter in 2002, but we don’t hold that against him,” Hall laughed. “In September 2015 he became a reserve officer with the Exeter Police Department and became full time in 2017.”
Hall said that Hayes is always positive to be around and others in the department want to work with him.
“He always has a smile on his face,” said Hall. “He is at work early and if a call comes over the radio he will go even if he isn’t on the clock. He wants to help and doesn’t want the community to have to wait for help.”
Hayes also works with the Tulare County Office of Education to bring Tobacco Awareness to local schools.
Hayes said, “I have to thank my family and the rest of the department for making work enjoyable.”
Tulare County Fire Dept.
Tulare County Fire Chief Charlie Norman said that Chad Branch knew what he wanted to do at a young age.
“At 18 years old he knew he wanted to be a fire fighter,” said Norman. “Even at that young age he knew he wanted to serve his community. He is a noble man and is willing to help wherever the community needs him”
Norman said that Branch has learned to train, respond and act.
Branch has furthered his education with an Associates of Arts degree in Agribusiness. He has been stationed in Lindsay, Three Rivers, Porterville and Exeter.
“He knows the next call is the most important,” said Norman, “and he trains hard and is quick to volunteer. He loves the people of Tulare County and it shows.”
Branch said, “I have to thank Chief Norman and I really have to thank my family. They support me 100 percent.”
Exeter District Ambulance
Paramedic Jeremy Thomas was working in Strathmore when a patient came into the station complaining of an anxiety attack.
District Manager Peter Sodhy said Thomas had a feeling more was going on.
“He knew things did not seem right. He was worried she was having a heart attack. He calmly talked her into going to the hospital and without alarming the patient, told the driver to get there quick. It was confirmed she was having a heart problem and doctors said if she had arrived 15 minutes later, she probably would not have survived. He saved a life,” said Sodhy.
Thomas said, “I want to give a special thank you to management. They work tirelessly to support us. This is the first time I have felt 100 percent supported. I also want to thank those in Fire and PD. When situations are really serious, we rely on you guys more and you always have our backs.”