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Massena firefighters recognize contributions to department

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MASSENA - This year’s Massena Volunteer Fire Department Fireman of the Year was recognized for his efforts above and beyond during April’s fire at the Hillside Motel in Massena.

Richard Rakoce received this year’s honors during Saturday’s annual banquet at the fire station.

Fire Chief Thomas C. Miller said Mr. Rakoce was leaving for work at about 5 a.m. April 20 when there was a page that the Hillside was fully engulfed in flames.

As he saw the fire, Mr. Miller said, Mr. Rakoce “could feel the intense heat even in his car.”

And as he was putting on his turnout gear, three explosions rocked the site.

But that didn’t deter Mr. Rakoce from doing his job, Mr. Miller said.

As he was behind the motel, he saw a man standing barefoot in his jeans and heard “Hey, I need your help.” With no equipment yet on hand, Mr. Rakoce saw a man stuck in a window.

“He explained to him what he needed to do to get out of that building and stay alive,” Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Rakoce explained to the man that he needed to get onto the roof and jump and that he would catch him.

“He told him he needed to jump because the flames were shooting out of the window,” the chief said.

Although he was hesitant, the man finally did jump. He hit Mr. Rakoce chest to chest and both fell to the ground.

Then a woman started to yell out of another room, and Mr. Rakoce instructed her to break the window, pop the screen and, like the man before her, get on the roof.

“He assured the lady he would catch her. This lady needed a lot of assurance,” Mr. Miller said.

Once the woman was safe, Mr. Rakoce continued to yell and throw rocks at other windows in the motel to alert other occupants about the fire.

“Without a doubt, because of his actions... he saved lives,” Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Rakoce received a standing ovation as he walked from the back of the banquet room to accept the award.

“That morning was really different for me. You go over it in your head. It’s just amazing how you remember it in your head,” he said.

Mr. Miller said nominations for Fireman of the Year come from the department’s members.

“Each member has a chance to turn someone into the chief,” he said “As a chief it’s very hard to give out individual awards because it takes a team to be successful.” However, Mr. Miller said, people like Mr. Rakoce sometimes go above and beyond the call, making them worthy to be called Fireman of the Year.

Mr. Rakoce wasn’t the only person who was recognized during the banquet, which wrapped up this year’s Fire Prevention Week efforts. Mr. Miller, First Assistant Chief Ted Krywanczyk and Second Assistant Chief Bill Kearns presented certificates to representatives from various agencies including the town and village of Massena, neighboring fire departments, police agencies, rescue squads, highway departments and media outlets.

“It’s a way to say thank you to everyone who helped in one way or another,” Mr. Miller said.

“We appreciate everything that you do, and we especially appreciate you not raising the fire contract this year,” Massena Deputy Town Supervisor Albert Nicola quipped in accepting the certificate.

“It’s not a done deal yet,” Mr. Miller jokingly responded.

Years of service were also recognized Saturday night. Kyle Bigness and Patrick O’Brien were recognized for five years, Michael Macaulay was recognized for 10 years, Quentin Siddon was recognized for 15 years, Mr. Krywanczyk was recognized for 20 years and Timothy Beaulieu, Timothy Quenneville and James Debien were recognized for 25 years.

“It’s an amazing plateau,” Mr. Miller said, noting the group had a choice to receive either a ring or watch for reaching the milestone.

“They’re an outstanding group. We have three excellent men right here. They’re very dedicated,” he said.

Two other members were recognized for an even higher plateau in their length of service - 45 years. Fran Laduke and Thomas Macaulay received those honors.

“These two gentlemen have reached an amazing plateau. Forty-five years of service is a long time,” Mr. Miller said. “To have 45 years of service is true dedication.”

Also on hand and recognized Saturday was Richard Frank, a 51-year member who serves on the Fire Police.

The department’s Ladies Auxiliary was also recognized this year with a plaque for their efforts over the past year, including having meals ready for firefighters who were finishing up an early morning shift at this year’s Alcoa fire.

“The three chiefs got together and decided to do something a little special,” Mr. Miller said. “We want them to have a spot on our wall because they’re part of us.”

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