When there’s a fire blazing, most people are moving as far away as possible from the flames and the harm that it could bring.
Then there’s people like Steve Jasper, who does the exact opposite. He races to the scene, puts out the blaze and tries to save anyone who needs medical attention.
The firefighter of 30 years was among 17 local public service members honored at the 16th annual Pittsburgh and Allegheny County Public Service Awards, held April 5 at Savoy Restaurant, in the Strip District. The event was originated by Achieving Greatness, Inc.
“When I was younger, I always heard the sirens going off and I always wanted to be a firefighter, so I joined the (Penn Hills Volunteer Fire Department) and have been there ever since,” said Jasper, who is now Deputy Chief of the Penn Hills Lincoln Park Volunteer Fire Department. “I’m an adrenaline junkie, so it was just something I wanted to try out, and I loved it.”
Jasper, a Penn Hills High School graduate, also served four years in the Air Force, then with the Wilkinsburg and Pittsburgh fire departments, while also serving for the Penn Hills Lincoln Park Volunteer Fire Department. Jasper said when people thank him for putting out a fire, or administering life-saving procedures, “It feels pretty good, but I take it as, I was just doing my job because that’s what I’m here to do.”
Bill Neal, the event’s host and sports columnist for the New Pittsburgh Courier, began honoring those in public service after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. He knew people in New York City at the time, and they told him the tragedy was even more than what television cameras could capture.
“I was so moved, I wanted to go to New York to help. But I also wanted to do something here to recognize our local heroes,” Neal said.
About 125 people were in attendance for the upstairs event, many grabbing some eateries and listening to music before the event began. Then, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Dwayne Woodruff addressed the crowd, lending his full support to the honorees.
“We need them,” Woodruff said. “As adults, we sometimes fall short of what we should be doing. These people that we honor today, those are the ones who have been standing tall, not just for a short while, but for the long haul.”
Officer Richard Ernest McClain, one of the honorees, has served 28 years on the Pittsburgh Police force. He’s Homewood-raised, a graduate of Westinghouse High School and Tuskegee University, and told the New Pittsburgh Courier he loves to serve. “It feels great to be recognized,” he said. “I like dealing with people, and working with people.”
McClain said many police officers are compassionate, and care for the people in the communities they serve. “People shouldn’t judge (us) based on what they see on the news or in other cities. They should get to know the officers because we are all human before we put the uniform on. Once you get to know us as a person, you’ll realize that we’re real people just like they are,” he said.
Deborah Walker, another honoree, was recognized in memoriam. The former director Deputy Chief of Human Resources in the city’s Department of Personnel and Civil Service Commission left a lasting impact on everyone, said her niece Deanna Smith.
“She was just a loving person,” said Smith, who received the award on her aunt’s behalf. “She was for the community. She would do anything for anyone, and she’s always been that way.”
Smith said that Walker was a strong proponent for “the Black community. She was an avid person for Black rights and to achieve Black progress.”
Walker also served as a police officer for the University of Pittsburgh, chair of Pittsburgh’s Citizens Police Review Board and manager of the city’s Office of Municipal Investigations. Walker died in late February. She was 62.
“She leaves a great legacy behind her, one that we’re all proud of,” Woodruff said.
Other honorees included Kim Long, Mary Lou Hoffman, Amera Gilchrist, Vianca Masucci, Allegheny County Housing Authority Chief of Police Mike Vogel, Hercules Chico Butler, Loraine Cook, Alieu Nyassi, Lori Crisswell, Brandon Phillips, Petty Officer Wayne A. McGonigal, Robert Williams and Sgt. Alejandro Ahumado Jr.
“These are people that are serving because that’s the character that they have,” Woodruff said. “They’re not serving looking for recognition. They just continue to work hard for their community. We just thank God that they’re around.”
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