In an evening of self-effacing speeches, two of the Oak Lawn’s first responders humbly received police and firefighter of the year honors.
Det. Brian Duffy of the Oak Lawn Police Department and Lt. Vince Griffin of the Oak Lawn Fire Department were publicly recognized at the Lions Club’s 41st annual Law and Order Dinner at the Hilton Oak Lawn on Tuesday.
The year’s top cop and firefighter candidates are nominated by their peers and the winners selected by an awards committee from both departments. The tradition started in 1972 when members of the Oak Lawn Lions Club began handing out the awards in honor of the first responders that helped residents recover from the 1967 Oak Lawn Tornado.
Police Chief Bill Villanova dipped into the Duffy’s 30-year personnel records and spoke of the detective’s efforts to pull an elderly gentleman from a smoke-filled garage while a patrol officer in 1992.
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“We responded to a well-being check from an elderly blind woman who said that her husband went out to the garage and did not return,” the police chief said. “He hadn’t returned and she heard a loud bang in the garage.”
Duffy entered the garage twice until he found the man in his car inside his garage. The elderly man had apparently suffered a stroke while starting his car and backed up in reverse, hitting the wall of the garage.
“His foot was pressed on the gas pedal and the tires were spinning causing smoke to fill the garage,” Villanova said. “Brian entered the garage a third time to shut off the car.”
In his 30-year career with the OLPD, Duffy has received dozens of awards and commendations from the police force and other law enforcement agencies, including being named “Patrol Officer of the Year” by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. He also serves on the South Suburban Crime Task Force where he has twice been assigned to assist the Tinley Park police on the Lane Bryant murders.
“I didn’t expect this at all, I’m humbled by the whole thing,” Duffy said. “Receiving this award from Lions Club is extra special.”
Lt. Vincent Griffin, a 19-year veteran of the Oak Lawn Fire Department, said he has never done anything that set him apart from his coworkers.
“[Firefighting] is a profession of teamwork where individuals act as one in a synergetic effort of protecting the lives of the citizens of Oak Lawn,” Griffin said. “I, as an individual, do not deserve it.”
The Oak Lawn Fire Department averages about 8,000 per year, of which 75 percent, or 6,000 of those calls are for medical emergencies. Griffin remarked on advances in technology that have made firefighting more effective and increased the odds of survival for cardiac patients.
He called the loss of village firefighters due to retirement or attrition a potentially “catastrophic shot to the department.”
“All of the increases in demand have been met with steady decreases in resources, specifically manpower,” Griffin said. “I do not wish to use this platform for philosophical or political debate but I do wish to use it in order to make a point … as fire department manpower decreases so does that fire department’s ability to affect a positive outcome on emergency calls.”