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First Responders honored by the people they saved

Chesapeake Beach, MD – Calvert County Behavioral Health (CCBH) hosted their 2nd Annual First Responders Dinner, recognizing the men and women who often interact with and aid citizens suffering from behavioral health conditions.

Kicking off the event was Behavioral Health Director Doris McDonald, who explained some of the difficulties in diagnosing and assisting people with behavioral health problems. McDonald expressed how difficult the job is for the men and women who often interact with these citizens first and that the Behavioral Health Department wanted to “express [their] appreciation for the continued care and consideration” the first responders give.

The event took place at the Rod ‘N’ Reel Wednesday, June 12, featuring 14 awards given to Fire and Rescue volunteers and Law Enforcement in the county. The Behavioral Health Department reaches out to every fire and rescue station in the county along with the Maryland State Police and Calvert County Sheriff’s Office, asking for nominations for the awards. What makes the dinner unique, according to Prevention Coordinator Ashley Staples-Reid, is the inclusion of “Peer Recognition Awards” presented by the citizens whose lives were saved by the actions of the first responder they are honoring. Staples-Reid explained that first responders often “don’t see the good” that comes after they’ve saved someone’s life.

An alcoholic turned 4.0 student, a security technician with a checkered past, an addict who attempted suicide in front of the church he now works at, and the mother of two recovering addicts all shared their stories.

Michelle Hall’s story is one of a recovering alcoholic, “I’ve been found with BAC [Blood Alcohol Content] levels above .67 on numerous occasions,” she explained to the crowd of first responders. Hall presented her appreciation award to one officer who found her during one of those occasions. “If it wasn’t for Officer Ostazeski, I may have easily died that night. From the bottom of my heart, I thank him and all of you for another chance at life.” With that second chance, Hall explained that she started her own business, employing individuals coming from similar situations. She also went back to school and is planning on finishing her bachelor’s degree in the spring with a 4.0 gpa.

Andrew Higgs grew up right down the road from the Rod ‘N’ Reel in Chesapeake Beach. His past is one of a troubled youth who got caught up in drugs and alcohol. Higgs ended up “committing some crimes” before Deputy First Class Allan Curtin with the sheriff’s office arrested him. “He was very professional and looked at me like I needed help,” explained Higgs whose message for the night was “hope” a theme that was shared amongst the presenters. Since being arrested, Higgs became a security technician and even installed security in the very place he was now thanking the first responders. “I just want to say, simply, thank you, there are not enough words that I can say to thank you for everything that you do in this community.”

The next presenter was David Brenton, who grew up in a poor household filled with abuse. “The only hope I had was to pick up the phone and make a call… Soon enough the flashes from the emergency vehicles would wash over my house as the first responders arrived.” Brenton began using drugs and alcohol as an escape. Ostracized from his family, he attempted suicide in front of Emmanuel Church in Huntingtown after calling 911. Deputy First Class Todd Smith, now retired, was the first person on the scene who, along with many other first responders, helped save his life. Since then, Brenton was able to turn his life around and now serves as the associate worship leader at Emmanuel. “None of that would have happened without the first responders… what you did made a difference in my life and my family’s life and I can not thank you enough.” Upon finishing his story, Brenton received a standing ovation from the crowd.

Jenna Licurgo was the last to share her story about being the parent of two recovering heroin addicts. Her story explained that it can be hard to tell when a child is struggling with addiction. “We as parents breathed a sigh of relief, foolishly believing that he would be just fine… We were completely unaware that our gifted, happy, son had become a full-blown, blackout, alcoholic before his 21st birthday.” She went on to explain his drug abuse and what it was like to have to cut off her own son. After being found overdosed behind a building, her son, Drew, “now works as a Peer Recovery Specialist with the Calvert County Behavioral Health Services helping other addicts who are seeking a better life.”

Award recipients were: Erik Morgan (NBVFD&RS), Dwight Arminger and Robert Hall Jr (PFVFD), Colton Pounsberry (Solomons VRS&FD), Alan Ridgely (PFVRS), Russel Passwaters (Dunkirk VFD&RS), Alexis Tiede (Huntingtown VFD&RS), Alexander Graham (SLVFD&RS), James Laska (Calvert ALS), Deputy Brian Pounsberry (CCSO), and Trooper Shawn Matthews (MDSP). 

In attendance at the dinner were commissioners Kelly McConkey and Earl “Buddy” Hance along with many first responders from throughout the county. In addition to the awards from the Behavioral Health Department were citations from Senator Chris Van Hollen’s office.

For more information on the Calvert County Behavioral Health Department, visit their website here.

Contact Jerold at staffwriter@thebaynet.com.

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