Utica Post 229 Honors EMT and Firefighter of Year

 A paramedic who receives accolades from family members of individuals he has cared for and a firefighter cited for heroic actions over the course of his career were honored by American Legion Post 229 as Emergency Medical Technician of the Year and Firefighter of the Year during ceremonies at the Utica Post Thursday evening (Dec. 1). The honorees are:

-- EMT of the Year Leonardo Orlando, a firefighter/paramedic who has been with the Utica Fire Department since March 27, 2004. He became a paramedic in May 2006.

-- Firefighter of the Year Captain Michael Wusik, who joined Utica Fire Department on May 21, 1988. He was promoted to fire lieutenant ten years later, and then was appointed fire captain on July 9, 2004.

Calling them outstanding individuals, Fire Chief Russell Brooks said Orlando and Wusik go "above and beyond the call of duty."

Utica Post 229 Commander Chris Urban introduced Law-and-Order Chair Paul Wojcik to present the awards.

Wojcik said the fire department has received numerous letters commending Orlando "on the exemplary care he provided" when responding to 911 emergency calls. For example, he said, one letter came from a family grateful for the rapid and compassionate care he provided to their father, both at their home and in the hospital. Another letter from a father praised Orlando "for his immediate evaluation, rapid treatment and persistence in caring for his child during a critical situation, and continued this utmost care until the hospital personnel took over." Wojcik said Orlando also displayed courage and commitment in August 2009 when he was the first firefighter to enter the water of the Barge Canal to attempt the search-and-rescue of a 6-year-old girl who had been ejected from a vehicle.

Chief Brooks praised Orlando for his actions when he and his partner responded to the chief's home to care for the chief's elderly mother who had suffered a stroke. Brooks said he believes that if it had not been for the actions of Orlando and fellow paramedic, his mother would not have survived. Orlando has been recognized on Valor Day for going "above and beyond," Brooks noted, and has represented the department as a volunteer at the Boilermaker Road Race and Muscular Dystrophy Boot Drive.

Captain Wusik is being honored for "bravery, professionalism, knowledge and expertise," Wojcik said, as well as for his willingness to donate time to assist with such events as Ride for Missing Children, Boilermaker Road Race, Muscular Dystrophy Boot Drive, and Heart Run & Walk. He cited two instances of bravery. One was the 1994 fire at Kanatenah Apartments, where, he said, some 150 people were rescued and brought to safety by whatever means necessary. "Captain Wusik displayed bravery and initiative while operating steadfastly in a burning building that posed unusual personal risk," he said.

In 2002, Wojcik added, Wusik was off duty when he responded to a fully involved fire on Meeker Avenue. "He heard explosions from within the home and he proceeded to kick in the front door to gain entry." For his actions, Wusik received a proclamation proclaiming May 3, 2002 as Michael E. Wusik Day. Captain Wusik serves in several roles, as a ranking officer on a Haz-Mat Team, as an instructor in the Fire Academy Program, as a state fire inspector, and as house commander at Fire Station Three.

The awards ceremony followed a dinner attended by Legionnaires, auxiliary members, and the families of both honorees. 

Wojcik noted that Post 229 would submit Orlando and Wusik for the County level award.
Post 229 honors top firefighters every fall and police officers of the year in the spring.

Michael Wusik
Capt. Michael Wusik

Leonardo Orlando
Leonardo Orlando

Paul Wojcik
Law-&-Order Chair Paul Wojcik

Chief Brooks
WUTR Eyewitness News interviews Fire Chief Russell Brooks.

Capt Wusik
WKTV News Channel 2 interviews Capt. Michael Wusik.