Hometown Heroes

Each year, the Southwestern New York chapter of the American Red Cross recognizes hometown heroes – people who have made sure that those who needed help, received that help.

The 11th annual Chautauqua Hometown Heroes Breakfast was held Wednesday at the Moon Brook Country Club, where nine area residents were presented with awards for their actions.

“This morning, our grateful community gathers to say thank you and applaud the conviction, skill and courage of these people,” said Bill Tucker, American Red Cross of Southwestern New York executive director. “The actions that we’re here to recognize have transformed these everyday people into our local hometown heroes.”

For the ninth year, NRG Dunkirk Power, LLC was the sponsor for the event. U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning; state Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-C-I Chautauqua County; and state Sen. Cathy Young, R-C-I-Olean all had representatives present at the award ceremony. Along with the awards presented to the individuals by the Red Cross, all of the nominees received certificates from Goodell and Reed, as well. Terry Frank, WJTN news director and member of the Red Cross Century Club, was the emcee for the event.

“This is our 11th year recognizing our hometown heroes,” said Tucker. “Each time we do this it increases our understanding of the difference that one person can make in other people’s lives.”


This year’s recipient of the Farm Fresh Foods Law Enforcement award is Patrolman James Muscato of the Westfield Police Department. Muscato responded to the scene of a fire in the village of Westfield, and his actions at that time saved the lives of several residents of the building. Without hesitation and at great risk to his own safety, Muscato entered the house to help its occupants. His actions demonstrated his dedication to the safety of the residents of Westfield.


Thomas Atwell of the Gerry Fire Department was the recipient of the Chautauqua Patrons Insurance Company Emergency Personnel award. Atwell is the 1st assistant chief of the Gerry Fire Department and rodeo chairman. Atwell recently headed up a fundraiser for Gerry Fire Chief Carl Fransen, who is battling cancer.


Wayne Engstrom was awarded the Cummins Inc. Workplace Hero award for 2013. On Aug. 2, 2012, Ted Card was working on a tractor when he became trapped between the tractor and the hay wagon it was pulling. He was injured and unresponsive. Engstrom, who works with Card, blocked the wagon and moved the tractor ahead, freeing Card, who then fell to the ground. Engstrom realized that something needed to be done and immediately called 911 and attended to Card until the Fluvanna Fire Department arrived.


Deborah Washington was the recipient of the Nestle Purina PetCare Animal Rescue award. Deborah goes through great efforts to feed and befriend feral cats. She has hand raised kittens by the litter in her bathtub, and from her own resources she has taken feral cats to be neutered and released. She has also taken very sick cats and nurtured them back to health and comforted other cats when they were dying.


The winner of the KeyBank Youth award was Brandon Sweet, who responded to an emergency in his own home. On July 15, 2012, an explosion rocked the home of the Sweet family. The explosion buried Brandon’s father, Mark, under the rubble and knocked Brandon off his feet. Brandon was able to dig his father out of the rubble and assisted him outside and to the ambulance when it arrived. He also carried his mother to an ambulance and cared for his two brothers, all while injured himself.


This year’s recipients of the Everyday’s TrueValue Firefighter award are Doug Crane, Michael Courtney and James Irwin of the Stanley Hose Company in Sherman. After the fire department was dispatched to a fire, these three firefighters responded directly to the scene. Upon arrival, they noticed the rear of the residence was fully involved and that two people were trapped in the second-story bedroom. The firefighters used quick thinking and acquired two ladders from contractors and proceeded to rescue the victims from the home. If it had not been for the brave actions of these men, the outcome could have been much worse.


The recipient of the NRG Dunkirk Power Humanitarian award was Justin Brunacini. A humanitarian is defined as a person having concern for or helping to improve the welfare and happiness of people, or someone who works to save human lives or alleviate suffering. Brunacini reflected these values when, while on his way to a friend’s home, he noticed flames and smoke coming from a home. He immediately stopped and attempted to alert the residents, but quickly noticed there were people trapped on the second floor of the home. With disregard for his own safety, Brunacini pulled his van alongside the burning home and rescued the occupants. He did not leave the residents until he was sure they were safely in the care of fire and EMS personnel. He unselfishly stopped to help when it was needed most.

“Literally from the time that I got there, the fire was already at the front of the house,” said Brunacini in a previously taped interview. “The fire was coming out of the doorway to a porch upstairs. I knew that some people were in need of help, so I took it upon myself. I acted on how I felt any good citizen should have. I’m just an average citizen. There are fire fighters, police officers and soldiers that do this everyday – I just happened to be there this time. I just want to be the best person I can be.”


The Red Cross goes through an extensive process to make sure that everyone who is recognized for these awards are the best possible candidates

“What makes it so hard is that everyone that gets nominated is a winner,” said Tucker. “These are tremendous people doing wonderful things for their community, so it’s difficult to select a ‘winner.’ The people that received an award this morning really epitomize everything that’s great about Chautauqua County and our communities. They are people from average citizens and students to police officers and fire fighters who stepped forward and really put it all on the line to help other people out.”

According to Tucker, area residents can nominate someone for the award either by calling the Southwestern New York Chapter of the American Red Cross at 664-5115 or visiting its website, www.redcross.org/swny. The Jamestown chapter of the American Red Cross is located at 325 E. Fourth St.

“Keep your eyes peeled for folks that are doing these extraordinary things,” said Tucker. “Six months from now when we’re starting to get things ready for next year, you can nominate those phenomenal people.”