Police officers, firefighters honored for service

Award recipients from left to right, starting with the top row:

South County police and fire officials took a couple hours out
of their busy schedules of nabbing bad guys, keeping the peace and
extinguishing fires to honor some of their own today.
videos of the ceremony and award presentation.
South County police and fire officials took a couple hours out of their busy schedules of nabbing bad guys, keeping the peace and extinguishing fires to honor some of their own today.

Eight civil servants received awards for going above and beyond the call of duty at an annual lunch held by the Exchange Club of Gilroy. Each Blue and Gold awardee received a plaque and recognition from their peers and superiors.

The Exchange Club also bestowed a special award upon one of Gilroy’s unsung heroes, a man who “everyone goes to when they need help in this city,” Councilman and past president Dion Bracco said. “He doesn’t know the words ‘I can’t.'” John Garcia accepted the Book of Golden Deeds Award with modesty, simply saying: “I try to make a difference to anyone that needs help and I’ll do that to my grave.”

The awards followed a buffet lunch at the IFDES Portuguese Lodge provided by Mama Mia’s Restaurant. About 60 people attended the ceremony to honor their colleagues, husbands, fathers and friends. The room full of men and women in polished uniform, Gilroy community service officer Aaron Avila sang the National Anthem after a Color Guard presentation. The awards celebrated the outstanding acts of bravery and commitment of South County’s law enforcement agencies and fire department.

Chief John Ellis of the Department of Forestry recognized Fire Captain and paramedic Jeff Isaacs for his bravery in saving the lives of two small children and their mother whose car went 200 feet over the edge of a cliff near Dinosaur Point.

“It was a tremendous effort that night,” Isaacs said. “I just happened to be the first one there.”

Sheriff’s Sgt. Alan Holborn, who is soon retiring after 23 years of service with the Sheriff’s Office, decisively shook his head when Capt. Pete Rode asked if he’d like to stay longer, to the audience’s laughter. Rode emphasized Holborn’s composure, ethics and leadership on the job that set him apart from the rest.

In a department with high turnover, Officer Matt Peters of the California Highway Patrol has been a steady presence after 24 years of service. “Every day he goes out there, it’s like it’s his first day out of the academy,” Capt. Sean McRae said. “He’s always got that smile on,” he said. Peters took that cue to turn his serious face into a toothy grin.

When Gilroy’s new police chief, Denise Turner took the podium, she spoke about two members of her team. Last November, when Officer John Ballard pulled a bicyclist over, he found himself staring down the barrel of a gun.

Fortunately, for him, his attacker’s gun malfunctioned.

“Thank God I’m here,” Ballard said.

“God does look over officers on the street,” Turner said. “Through common sense and good training, John was able to subdue the suspect.”

And when an injury on the job put Officer Jason Smith out of duty for months, the department rallied behind him financially and emotionally.Smith’s voice cracked when thanking his fellow officers and recently retired Officer Steve Morrow for their support. Smith accepted an award for his service to Gilroy.

Fire Captain and paramedic Shaun Peyghambary of the Gilroy Fire Department, Battalion Chief Steve Prziborowski of the Santa Clara County Fire Department and Officer Steve Pennington of the Morgan Hill Police Department were also honored by their departments.

“This is a great community to live in,” Exchange Club President Tom Cline said, “because of the men and women like the ones here today.”

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