Joshua M. Freeman First Responder Awards Stories

Below are excerpts from the 2024 first responder award script depicting stories about each honoree.

Police Officer of the Year Honorees:

Patrolman Molly Ryan from Bethany Beach Police Department

Patrolman Ryan has served the citizens of Bethany Beach since the Summer of 2022. Patrolman Ryan is being recognized for outstanding proactive criminal and traffic patrol work. Patrolman Ryan’s strong work ethic and desire to investigate led the Department in criminal, traffic, and DUI arrests. On several occasions since her employment with the Bethany Beach Police Department, she proactively located and arrested criminal offenders who have been wanted and in possession of narcotics and concealed weapons. During the past year, she handled three incidents where she recovered 4 illegal firearms. In two incidents, Patrolman Ryan initiated a traffic stop for minor traffic violations. During those stops, Patrolman Ryan continued to investigate further into the traffic stop which resulted in the arrest of 3 different suspect and the recovery of 3 illegal handguns. Two of the suspects were wanted and the two traffic stops resulted in 18 criminal charges against the suspects. In the third incident, Patrolman Ryan was dispatched to a disorderly subject at a residence within town. Upon arrival Patrolman Ryan began her investigation gathering information. Patrolman Ryan quickly identified the suspect in the incident and attempted to place the suspect in custody, the suspect resisted and attempted to flee. The suspect was tased and taken into custody. The suspect was found to be in possession of a handgun by a person who is prohibited. The suspect was charged with 9 criminal offenses including Carry Concealed Deadly Weapon. Patrolman Ryan displays the strong initiative and valor of a true investigator. She is a nominee for this year’s Overall Valor Award.

Corporal Justin Wechtenhiser from Dagsboro Police Department

Corporal Wechtenhiser recently joined the Dagsboro Police Department in 2023, bringing with him a wealth of knowledge and experience. He currently serves on the Department of Homeland Security Task Force where part of his duties is to actively and successfully conduct highway interdiction. In 2023 alone, Corporal Wechtenhiser has seized approximately $320,000.00 in US currency from the Route 113 corridor. A large portion of these funds have been linked to criminal activities and enterprises. These have included ties to illegal drugs, cigarettes, tobacco, immigration fraud, gangs, cartels, and terrorist organizations. Corporal Wechtenhiser was also able to locate a transport of 110 pounds of marijuana and with the assistance of the Worchester County Sheriff’s Office, the transport was seized in Maryland. In October of 2023, Corporal Wechtenhiser accepted a new role as the Department’s K9 handler. He completed training with his new drug detection partner K9 Buzz and within a few shorts weeks they seized a large amount of US currency. Corporal Wechtenhiser is being commended for his tireless efforts conducting highway interdiction. He strives to continue making Delaware highways and communities safe and serves as an example to other Law Enforcement agencies with his hard work and dedication. He is a nominee for this year’s Overall Valor Award.

Officer Cameron Clift from Fenwick Island Police Department

Officer Clift is a U.5. Army veteran serving in his first year with the Fenwick Island Police Department. He is being recognized for his actions on October 6, 2023, at 1100, when he was dispatched to Southern Exposure for a crash that involved a vehicle into a building and multiple persons injured. Officer Clift arrived on the scene and advised dispatch of the situation. He entered the building where the vehicle had penetrated and began a search for victims. He located a 75-year-old female on the ground who was struck by the vehicle and was suffering from hip injuries. He quickly determined her injuries were non-life threatening, assured her additional help was on the way, and continued searching for additional victims. Officer Clift made entry into the crashed vehicle through the rear hatch, which was open and crawled through the vehicle, locating the driver. He determined the drivers’ injuries were minor and continued searching for a third victim, who he had learned may be pinned under the vehicle. Officer Clift then had to force open the damaged passenger side door, crawl out and search for the victim trapped under the vehicle. Officer Clift traversed through falling debris and store inventory and located a 57-year-old female trapped under the vehicle. Unable to remove her, he made a quick assessment determined she was stable and reassured her she would be removed shortly, Officer Clift climbed back into the vehicle crawled to the rear, exited, and directed rescue personal to the women trapped under the vehicle. Officer Clift assisted with the removal of the victims. The victim who was trapped under the vehicle was freed from the wreckage and transported to Christiana Hospital by helicopter. The other victims were transported to local hospitals by ambulance.

Due to Officer Clift’s quick response and dedication to duty, three injured women were quickly located, assessed, and treated for their injuries. Officer Clift conducted a search through an unstable building disregarding his own personal safety facilitating a quick rescue of the victims. This was the first personal injury crash officer Clift investigated as a Fenwick Island Police Department. He is also a nominee for this year’s Overall Valor Award.

Sergeant Mark Burton from Ocean View Police Department

Sergeant Mark Burton serves as a Shift Supervisor and Evidence Manager for the Ocean View Police Department. He is well-respected by members and leadership. His responsibilities have included an entire system transitioned for evidence management, required attention to detail, care, and commitment to high-level organization. As many in attendance can attest, it is often this type of work that goes on behind the scenes and unnoticed by the public that strengthens the accountability, compliance, and success of a department in achieving its mission to serve and protect its citizens. Sergeant Burton consistently demonstrates distinguished performance and works to improve the skills and develop talents of subordinates. Sergeant Burton is always the first one to volunteer to cover an open shift and he can be counted on to manage special assignments. He has become the key liaison for events like A Night to Shine. His character and work ethic as an individual reflects on the department as a whole. Sergeant Burton’s performance exemplifies the highest traditions of the Ocean View Police Department and is worthy of recognition.

Patrolman 1st Class Tyler Bare from Selbyville Police Department

Patrolman First Class Bare has been a school resource officer for Selbyville Police Department since 2022. He is being honored today for his exemplary job in the school, working with administrators, teachers and students to build a good rapport within the community. ln February 2023, Patrolman Bare was working in the Selbyville Middle School when he heard a call over the radio for possible shots fired behind the Selbyville Middle School and immediately notified school officials of the situation. Patrolman Bare requested that the school be placed on lockdown until he could investigate the complaint. The school was then placed on a low-level lockdown until further notice. Upon exiting the school, Patrolman Bare responded to the wood-line a couple hundred yards behind the school and made contact with a subject who had a handgun. Due to Patrolman Bare’s quick response, the situation was safely and quickly resolved with no safety concerns to the school. His professional communication with school administrators and rapid response demonstrated bravery and commitment to the schools and community he serves. He is a nominee of this year’s Overall Valor Award.

Shaun Baldasano from South Bethany Police Department

South Bethany is proud to recognize Corporal Baldasano as its recipient of the Officer of the Year Award. Corporal is a Master Sergeant in the Delaware Air National Guard and is currently deployed overseas in the Middle East region. We are joined here today by Corporal Baldasano’s wife, Marissa who received the award on his behalf. We would like to take a moment to appreciate the valor he displays, along with our other U.S. servicemen and women in the audience, in serving and protecting our nation. During 2023, Corporal Shaun Baldasano provided exceptional service to the Town of South Bethany. He led the department’s efforts in our highway safety program by leading the department in use of overtime provided by the Office of Highway Saftey, total traffic violations enforcement, and DUI arrests. Corporal Baldasano completely revised a very outdated Field Training Program. This work helps ensure new police officers that have recently graduated from the police academy, making sure they will have modern and relevant training, equipment, and experience prior to patrolling as a solo officer. This also included changing outdated paper forms into electronic paperless documentation. As many in this room can attest, this work is crucial to the overall safety and success of a department’s fulfillment of their mission to serve and protect.

Firefighter of the Year Honorees:

Firefighter Jerry Carter from the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company

Jerry Carter is being honored today for his dedication to Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company (BBVFC) as a full-time Firefighter/EMT. Jerry has been employed with BBVFC since June of 2018 as a part-time Firefighter/EMT before filling in full-time beginning in August of 2023. Since his start with Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company in 2018, Jerry has responded to over 300 Fire and EMS Incidents. In November 2023, BBVFC celebrated 75 years of service to our community and 15 years of EMS service. The leadership approached the career staff for ideas of a banquet video. Nathan Shine and Jerry Carter quickly jumped at the opportunity. Nathan and Jerry spent over 30 hours recording and editing the video.

The video is a direct reflection on Jerry’s attitude of respect and dedication to involving past, present, and future members of BBVFC. Jerry brings a lot of experience as a past volunteer member with Lewes Fire Department and past full-time Firefighter/ EMT with Millville Volunteer Fire Company. As a seasoned firefighter, Jerry successfully obtained his qualification as a pumper operator which makes him a key component to the company. Jerry brings a positive attitude to work and is a great role model for new career and volunteer members of the company by bringing comradery amongst all members of the company.

Assistant Firefighter Ed Ferencie from Frankford Volunteer Fire Company

Ed Ferencie is being recognized today for his outstanding service to his fellow crew members, department leaders, and citizens of Frankford. His willingness to devote his time, energy, and talents sets him apart as a key member of the department, carrying excellence into every call and behind-the-scenes job he has a hand in. His willingness to assist and example of service is a great representation of the values of the Frankford Volunteer Fire Company.

Fire Police Captain William Bowden Sr. with Millville Volunteer Fire Company

William (Bill) Bowden Sr. has been a Fire Policeman for over 30 years and in that time has devoted countless hours on ensuring the safety and security of bystanders and First Responders on every emergency scene he has responded to. He is instrumental in training and development of newer Fire Police members and is always making sure our department follows current safety and transportation standards within our department and our surrounding neighboring departments. His dedication to providing whatever is needed for our department is much appreciated. He devotes more time ensuring things are running smoothly and everyone is taken care of and spends countless hours away from his family to make our community a better place. Bill is always available to help in any situation and Fire Chief Johnson stated he couldn’t think of another individual that should be nominated for this award. The Millville Volunteer Fire Company is honored and proud to recognize William Bowden Sr. for this prestigious award and to honor him for an outstanding job in serving his community.

EMT of the Year Honorees:

EMT Nathan Shine from Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company EMS

Nathan Shine is being recognized today for his actions on several incidents, as well as his dedication to Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company (BBVFC) as a part-time Firefighter/EMT since May of 2022. Nathan was a new EMT, still refining his skills when he approached BBVFC about working part-time as a Firefighter/EMT. After some field training, Nathan quickly became a valuable asset to the team. Nathan routinely showed up early for shift, stayed late for extra coverage, and was motivated to train every day. Since starting with BBVFC he responded to 229 EMS calls. On October 6, 2023, BBVFC was alerted to a vehicle accident in Fenwick Island, reported vehicle into a building with people trapped. Nathan Shine and his partner Lake Chisnell were the first EMS unit to arrive and immediately began triaging 3 patients. When EMS Chief Brackin arrived as the first office, Nathan and his partner gave him a detailed but quick report which allowed him to request additional resources and focus their attention on the most critical patient who was trapped under the car.

This incident is a small example of Nathan’s situational awareness and knowledge of operations, not just in EMS, but Fire and Rescue operations as well. In November 2023, BBVFC celebration of 75 years of service to our community and 15 years of EMS service, Nathan Shine’s extensive work on the video previously mentioned was an incredible reflection of his character and commitment to past, current, and future members of the department. Often volunteers and full-time career members are recognized regularly for their service, but rarely are part-time career members recognized. BBVFC heavily relies on part-time career members to increase our staffing levels during our busy summer months.

EMS Lieutenant Justin Shockley from Frankford Volunteer Fire Company

Justin Shockley is a full-time career EMT for Frankford’s neighboring companies in Selbyville and Gumboro. He also serves as a volunteer for the Frankford Volunteer Fire Company on his days off. Whether it is covering a shift, running an errand for the EMS, supporting the members or career staff, no matter what is asked of Justin, the answer is, “How can I help?” Justin first joined the Frankford Volunteer Fire Company as a Junior Fire Fighter and worked his way up to senior membership as an active Senior Firefighter. He returned to Frankford as an associate member and actively helps when available within the EMS. He currently holds the position of EMS Lieutenant in Frankford. He has worked in EMS for several years as both a driver and an EMT. He began working as a fulltime EMT shortly after receiving his NREMT certification. Justin has been on some intense scenes within the last few years, where he has shined as a medical provider. This past year has been no different. Even in the midst of chaos, Justin is able to render care while staying calm, which in turn makes everyone on scene work better together.

No matter what the situation or type of call, Justin brings compassion without judgement, allowing him to make sound decisions in the midst of an emergency. Department leaders are very proud to have Justin as a member of the Frankford Volunteer Fire Company and look forward to many more years of service.

EMT Tyler Hickman for the Millville Volunteer Fire Company

The Millville Volunteer Fire Company EMS recognizes EMT/Firefighter Tyler Hickman as the 2024 EMT of the Year. After several unforeseen issues that led to a temporary position change in the beginning of 2023, Tyler was asked to step up to be the Acting EMS Chief while Millville searched for a full-time replacement. Tyler, along with his everyday duties, took on an administrative roll outside of what he normally did. These responsibilities included running the Emergency Medical Operations, hiring new employees, handling human resources issue, community interactions, and responding to emergency calls. Tyler’s ability to remain professional and get tasks done to achieve overall EMS, Career Staff, and Company effectiveness allowed MVFC’s Fire Chief to handle all the needed tasks for daily fire operations. Tyler has been a well-respected employee with the entire southeast area and Sussex County Fire Service.

Tyler continues to strive to be well trained in all aspects of his Fire and EMS career while balancing a busy home life with his wife and (2) children. Tyler is currently serving as the Fire Chief for the Bethany Beach Fire Company and is a lifelong resident of Bethany-Millville area. He was mentor and friend to Chief Wilson upon his arrival as EMS Chief. To this day, Tyler is tasked with critical tasks that are required to make sure to ensure Millville VFC stays accountable and effective. Tyler is a past award recipient of the Joshua M. Freeman First Responder Awards and was awarded the 2023 Millville Volunteer Fire Company’s Ralph Burbage EMS Award. Tyler displays great commitment to the community and service to others, a true example of what it takes to step up and lead.

Engine Captain Daniel Hudson from Selbyville Volunteer Fire Company EMS

Daniel is a volunteer member of Selbyville VFC who continues to help support the EMS operation of the department. He has helped cover multiple shifts day/night, 12 or 24 hours, filling in as needed to ensure coverage within the community. He has attached in-house scenario-based EMS training with Sussex County Paramedics and attended multiple in-house EMS trainings, continuing education and protocol review classes to sharpen his knowledge and hone his BLS skills. Daniel has responded to 22 primary ambulance calls and helped cover 19 second emergencies for service. He has responded multiple times with the command unit or EMS chase vehicle to assist crews on scene or to start patient care while waiting for the ambulance from a neighboring district. Daniel is a career Firefighter for the city of Salisbury and Fire Captain for Selbyville VFC. He is also in the top 10 responders for 2023. His dedication to his community, citizens of Sussex County and the Fire/EMS service is one for all to admire. Daniel is a strong presence within the Selbyville Fire department and is truly an individual that will put others above himself.

It’s with this dedication, hard work and ethics Daniel stands out above the rest. Not that he sets out to be the best, but he continues to push himself not until he gets it right but until he cannot get it wrong. With the continued growth in Selbyville and EMS call volumes on the rise it is an overwhelming feeling to have such strong support from a volunteer like Daniel Hudson.

Matt Troutman from Sussex County EMS

Sussex County EMS (SCEMS) has elected Education Coordinator Matt Troutman for recognition for the 2024 Freeman First Responders Award for his initiative and leadership in achieving accreditation for SCEMS simulation program. SCEMS implemented high-fidelity simulation into our education programs in 2008. Over the past 15 years, the simulation team, FTOs and the Quality and Standards division have sought to improve patient outcomes and provider confidence by replicating calls and procedures that translate to accurate positive outcomes when performed in real time under stress. To ensure the program was of the highest standard, the Society for Simulation in Healthcare (SSH) was contacted to validate the program. Over the past 3 years, the simulation team strives to ensure that all their practices, procedures, policies, and simulations met these standards.

An application was submitted to be pre-qualified for an onsite all-day visit and board review by the SSH and the county on June 5th to review policies, witness an educational simulation session, and discussed the future of the program. Under Matt’s leadership, the SSH granted full accreditation to Sussex County EMS in Teaching and Education as of July 13, 2023. Sussex County EMS is the first EMS agency in the WORLD to achieve this accreditation. In Delaware, SCEMS joins Christiana Care, AI DuPont, and Beebe Healthcare in this accreditation and nationally, SCEMS joins Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, and the Mayo Clinic to name a few. The team’s efforts, under the leadership of Matt, have allowed SCEMS to provide the ultimate training opportunities for all of Sussex County’s EMS providers, law enforcement, and partnering hospitals, advancing patient care. These efforts align with the SCEMS motto of “Caring People, Quality Service” and the commitment to patient care is the basis for Matt’s much-deserved award.

Good Samaritan Award:

The Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce extends an additional thank you to department leaders who provided feedback and new ideas that resulted in additions to the event this year. The name of the event and the change in format for nominations and award recipients is one example. Additionally, the Good Samaritan Award came from a meeting between the Chamber Staff and Jackie Inman Burns, owner of Bethany Beach Books and The Book Drop to discuss the Book Store’s sponsorship of the First Responder Awards. In reflecting on the tradition of this event, and the many nominations first responders who have been honored over the years, it was clear to see the numerous mentions of upstanding citizens who played some role in the efforts to assist individuals in distress. It was decided that this year’s event would introduce this award intended to recognize a local resident who responded in a time of need while First Responders were still en route. Multiple department leaders were involved with this first nomination of the Good Samaritan Awardee. The recipient is someone who displayed selfless courage at a moment’s notice, in the midst of simply going about his typical day.

In 2017, Bethany Beach Police Officer Sharp was awarded the Overall Valor Award for his heroic efforts in a water rescue. In the account of his nomination, and as many here can confirm, a vital piece of that rescue was the involvement of a citizen at the first sign of distress.
Sean Ely, who works for the Town of Public Works crew, was simply doing his job on the day of the incident, cleaning up the blue beach ramp mats because of the poor weather that had recently occurred. The riptides and surf, still impacted by the storm were extremely rough. While riding down the beach in a Town truck, a lady came running up to Sean, frantically yelling that her son was in the ocean, caught in a rip current, and she was unable to get to him. Sean could see the little boy’s head bobbing up and down in the water. An elderly male had tried to swim out and save the boy, but was unable and had come back to shore. Sean called the Police Department, and then took off his shoes and jacket and ran into the ocean. Upon reaching the child, the young boy told him that he (the child) didn’t think he was going to make it back to shore, due to the rough surf and riptides. Sean told the boy that they BOTH were going to make it back, remaining confident in his actions, giving the boy a sense of hope. Sean was treading water until SGT Scharp arrived on scene and jumped into the water to assist. Once SGT Scharp made it out to the boy, Sean swam back to the beach and stood by to make sure SGT Scharp and the boy made it out of the water safely. First Responders who arrived on the scene stated that had it not been for Sean’s actions, the boy would not have survived.

As previously mentioned, all department leaders were given the option to have their awardee considered for the Valor Award. This year, the nominees are Patrolman Molly Ryan from Bethany Beach PD, Corporal Justin Wechtenhiser from Dagsboro PD, Officer Cameron Clift from Fenwick Island PD, and Patrolman 1st Class Tyler Bare from Selbyville PD.

Votes are received from Chamber Board Members and First Responder Captains and Chiefs. Thank you for going above and beyond the call of duty to prioritize the safety of the citizens of the Quiet Resorts. Valor is described as the demonstration of boldness and bravery in the face of adversity and danger. It involves sacrifice. In our communities, first responders often sacrifice their own safety to enrich and protect the lives of another. The Overall Valor Awardee for the 2024 Joshua M. Freeman First Responder Awards is Officer Cameron Clift of the Fenwick Island Police Department.