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Special Honors for Special People

Friendship Fire Engine Association pays tribute in ceremony.

Adopting the same theme as the snow-bound meeting of 2003, Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association, at their 2004 Annual Meeting, paid special tribute to "The Heros Among Us" and presented their highest honor to a native Alexandrian who has been active in everything from banking to education to antiques.

Back to the packed house attendance of pre-2003 blizzard, the association singled out Alexandria Fire Department crews from stations 206 and 208 for their particular heroism in two critical situation last year. They also honored Deputy Police Chief Joe Hilleary who played a central role in one of those incidents.

Named the recipient of the association's 2004 Reverend Ben Lynt Distinguished Service Award was Oscar P. Ryder, Sr.

"A Navy veteran, he was born and raised here, went to school here, married here, and has lived here all his life," said master of ceremonies Bill Mayhugh.

An employee of the old Capital Airlines company, Ryder opened the first Northern Virginia New York Stock Exchange office, served as treasurer of Alexandria Hospital, was a member of the Board of Directors, Alexandria National Bank, served on the Board of Architectural Review, the board of St. Stephen's School, and is a founder of the Historic Alexandria Foundation Antique Show.

"To say he is an institution in Alexandria may be an understatement," Mayhugh suggested. "He knows where all the proverbial skeletons are buried in the city. He has made extraordinary contributions to the growth of his hometown."

Ryder was presented a commemorative plaque "saluting his lifetime achievements" by association president Edward J. Snyder.

ANOTHER INDIVIDUAL singled out for special recognition at the annual breakfast event was Firefighter Joel Kanasky, New York City Fire Department. From 1986 to 1994, he was a member of the Alexandria Fire Department before moving to the New York City area.

As a member of FDNY he is assigned to Rescue Company One, which was one of the first units on the scene of the World Trade Center on 9/11. Kanasky had been assigned other duties that day and, therefore, was not at the scene at the time of the collapse, Mayhugh pointed out.

"He is also a member of the New York Task Force One and a FEMA rescue team, which deploys to calamities across the country. When off duty he is volunteer firefighter in Suffern, N.Y., and is chief of operations for the Rockland County Office of Emergency Management," Mayhugh said.

Winner of a number of valor awards and personal citations, the association honored Kanasky by making him a member of what is known as "George Washington's Fire Company." Dating back to 1774, it is one of the 12 most historic fire service organizations in the nation.

IN KEEPING WITH the gathering's theme, the valiant efforts of Rescue Engine 206, Medic 206, Alexandria Fire Department, and Deputy Chief Joe Hilleary, Alexandria Police Department were paid special tribute for their actions April 19, 2003. Answering a call to an auto accident they were confronted by one of the victims with a semi-automatic weapon.

As firefighters attempted to assist a second victim of the accident, the bleeding gunman started randomly firing the weapon. Hilleary, "without the aid of any physical protection stepped forward ... and brought down the gunman." He was given emergency medical aid, transported by helicopter to Washington Hospital Center for emergency surgery, and is alive today in police custody, according to Mayhugh's recounting of the incident.

"For the crew of Rescue Engine 206, this was a day that will live in infamy for them," Mayhugh noted. "Firefighting is an inherently dangerous duty, but this incident was above and beyond that duty."

On October 11, 2003, the crews of Engine 208, Truck 208, and Medic 208, answered a call at 344 S. Whiting St., for a garden apartment fire. With smoke pouring from a third floor unit they were told of a trapped baby inside.

Through combined teamwork of all members and the individual commitment of Firefighter Mike Ambrose, who "maneuvered his way down a smoke filled hallway" with zero visibility, the 20-month baby girl was located in her crib and saved. The fast fire attack also prevented the blaze from spreading to other units, Mayhugh related.

After initial treatment at Childrens Hospital in Washington, D.C., the child was transferred to a special children's burn clinic in Boston. Mayhugh announced that just prior to the breakfast he had received word she was recovered and back in Alexandria.

EACH OF THE 15 members of the two crews as well as Hilleary were presented a plaque in honor of their efforts. Ambrose was extended "a special salute for his unselfish efforts to save a child."

Two others welcomed into association membership were John Porter, principal, T.C. Williams High School and Grand Marshall of this year's George Washington Birthday Celebration Parade, and Donald M. Simpson, former Captain, Alexandria Fire Department.

Opening the program at the Holiday Inn and Suites on First Street, Snyder welcomed back Mayhugh as the master of ceremonies. Mayhugh suffered a heart attack last November but has recovered, according to William W. Kehoe, association secretary-treasurer. A long-time radio personality, he had been the event's perennial MC.

Kicking of the speakers, Alexandria Mayor William Euille enlightened the audience about some facts concerning the life of George Washington. He also proclaimed, in referring to his position as Mayor, "I love this job and I love this city immensely."

He was followed by City Manager Philip Sunderland and Alexandria Fire Chief Gary Mesaris. Paying tribute to first responders, Sunderland said, "The moment can come when you are required to rise to the occasion none of the rest of us are required to meet. We recognize the fact that you put yourselves in situations to help us everyday."

Mesaris, although only in his eighth month as chief, noted, "I've been a member of Friendship for many years. It is in the tradition of Friendship that the firefighters and so many others serve this city."

In recognition of the first president's birthday, Colonel William H. Pietsch, OSS, [Office of Strategic Services], (Ret), one of the original members of what became the CIA, spoke on the subject of Washington's expertise in intelligence gathering and utilization. "Washington had the great genius to look at a situation, analyze it, and come up with great solutions," he said.

In 1943, at age 20, Pietsch, the youngest in his U.S. Military Academy at West Point graduating class, was recruited by General Bill Donovan into the "then super secret offices of the OSS. He was instrumental in aiding the French resistance during Operation Warlord, D-Day, and continued his career in the intelligence arena for the next 30 years."

British Intelligence approved him for Executive Authority. He carries the double zero designation. Today, he serves on three national homeland defense committees as a special operations officer.

Newly announced Board members were Laurie Blackburn, John C. Everly, Gary Mesaris, and Gordon P. Peyton. In adition to Snyder and Kehoe, association officers are Donald F. Simpson, vice president; Oscar P. Ryder, Sr., trustee-at-large; Rev. Gary W. Charles, chaplain; and T. Michael Carter, PhD, historian.