Gilroy club offers thanks to South County safety officers

Joanne Kraemer jokes with Gilroy Exchange Club Charter President

A Gilroy organization spent two hours Wednesday afternoon
thanking those tasked with keeping South County safe every day and
A Gilroy organization spent two hours Wednesday afternoon thanking those tasked with keeping South County safe every day and night.

For the 18th consecutive year, the Gilroy Exchange Club handed out honors to local fire and law enforcement officers during the annual Blue and Gold Awards Luncheon, held at the I.F.D.E.S. Portuguese Hall at 250 Old Gilroy St.

The awards are meant to honor public safety officers who have gone “above and beyond in the community,” according to Dion Bracco, former club president and current Gilroy City Councilman.

The club honored six local officials: Maribel Gutierrez of the Gilroy Police Department, Carlos Guerrero of the Morgan Hill Police Department, Steven Hayes of the Gilroy Fire Department, Jason Falarski of the Santa Clara County Fire Department, Darren McMillen of CalFire and Dakota Smith of the California Highway Patrol.

“A lot of the public takes you for granted. I don’t,” said Mike Wasserman, Santa Clara County District 1 supervisor. “You save lives. That’s No. 1 in my book.”

GPD Chief Denise Turner introduced Gutierrez, a community service officer who has taught Drug Abuse Resistance Education, commonly known as D.AR.E., to Gilroy fifth graders for 10 years. Because of budget cuts in 2008, Gutierrez became the department’s only D.A.R.E. instructor, forcing her to teach the program to roughly 800 local students alone.

“Maribel stepped up to the plate and said, ‘This program cannot fail,'” Turner said. “She has a great heart and a special place in it for all the children of Gilroy.”

Hayes, a GFD firefighter and paramedic, has served the department as a field training officer, mentoring the fire department’s new paramedics, said Fire Chief Dale Foster.

“We’re proud of him. He’s a leader,” Foster said. “We’re thankful that the fire department hasn’t been in a situation where we need someone to commit a heroic act, but Steven’s the type of firefighter who would step up to do it.”

Hayes has also partnered with GPD Officer Mark Tarasco for the past several years for the Extreme Youth Event, which showcases local BMX and skateboarding talent.

“I’ve just been blessed to have really good people around me,” Hayes said.

Detective Guerrero joined the MHPD in 2009 and has been active in his role as liaison for the department’s Community Resource Unit by attending monthly apartment manager meetings, conducting quarterly hotel manager visits and working closely with the Housing Authority of County of Santa Clara and state Alcohol Beverage Control officials.

MHPD Chief David Swing said Guerrero’s efforts have served as examples of how police should interact with their cities.

“Carlos has really helped us,” Swing said. “I want our officers and the department at large to engage the community like he has.”

Swing said Guerrero also was awarded for investigating foreclosure scams with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office and creating the concept and guidelines for the department’s Crime Scene Response Team.

Before the club honored Falarski, a county fire captain, Battalion Chief Rich Salazar joked he had to bribe the humble firefighter to attend the luncheon by telling him he was actually on his way to a gun show.

A 20-year county fire veteran, Falarski was a founding member of the department’s Special Operations Task Force and currently is assigned to the El Toro Station in Morgan Hill. He serves as a safety officer, committee member and mentor, providing training to coworkers, Salazar said.

Salazar commended Falarski for being a “rock solid” captain and thanked the Exchange Club for the annual event.

“It’s nice to hear the community say, ‘We’re going to honor you,'” Salazar said.

McMillen, a CalFire employee for 18 years who recently took on the role of managing the basic life support and advanced life support programs for the South County fire district, was described as one of CalFire’s “go-to guys” by Division Chief Derek Witmer.

McMillen also oversees CalFire’s county ambulance contract and first responder contract.

When it came time to honor Smith, CHP Commander Dave Hill said the 2-year officer had matured far beyond his short stint.

“Dakota’s taken on the task of being an officer in charge,” Hill said.

According to the CHP’s official nomination, Smith consistently submits the “highest quality accident reports” of any officer working the Hollister-Gilroy area.

Smith said he was honored to receive the award, though most public safety officers often aren’t sure how to react to such large commendations.

“We never really expect anything other than to go home to our families at night,” Smith said.

Gilroy resident Joanne Kraemer also was presented with the Book of Golden Deeds Award, an honor given to one community member whose efforts are “sometimes overlooked,” said Gilroy Exchange Club President Erwin Boggs.

Kraemer has volunteered at St. Joseph’s Family Center for more than 12 years and has served on the center’s board of directors for three years. She also has volunteered with a Rotary Club reading program and participated in Gilroy’s sister cities outreach.

“I’m not used to getting awards,” Kraemer said coyly. “I don’t have much else to say. Thank you.”

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