By K.D. Norris
Wyoming Department of Public Safety Director James Carmody, addressing a standing-room-only crowd at the department’s annual award ceremony late last month, made clear his feelings on the role his police and fire personnel have in the Wyoming community.
“Tonight you will hear stories of unselfish acts of bravery, generosity, compassion and guy-wrenching determination,” Carmody said at the Feb. 23 event at the Wyoming Senior Center. “The events we speak of tonight are just a few of the many thousands of times that our men and women step into the breach of danger and work to keep our city a safe and comfortable place to live, work and play.”
While the evening honored all of the long list of winners of Certificates of Merit, Certificates of Achievement, Life Saving Awards and individual and unit commendations, the highlights of the evening were the five personnel who gained special honors. (See complete list here.)
Ofc. Carmen Morales was honored as Officer of the Year, Firefighter Lance Bowman was recognized as Firefighter of the Year, Milt Zaagman was honored as Civilian of the Year, and Det. D.J. VerHage and Firefighter Brad Dornbos each received the Chiefs Award of Professional Excellence.
Each of the five had their stories told and, afterword talking with WKTV, reacted to their awards.
Officer of the Year
Ofc. Morales has been with the department for more than 20 years, serving as a patrol officer, a detective and now in the warrant unit. She has been a long-serving member of the peer support group and awards boards. Carmody, in supplied material, described her as “passionate about bringing justice to the victims of crime and believes in the dignity of all. Her unwavering commitment to professional policing, her fellow officers and the community makes her someone we can all be proud to represent us as our Officer of the Year.”
The award “means a lot to me,” Ofc. Morales said. “Number One: I was chosen from my peers. … I have been with the city of Wyoming for 25 years, so I have dedicated myself to this department for 25 years, even though I consider them my family. It means a job well done, for me. I have been in so many units in this department, that I have to say I am glad I was chosen for this award and not for one specific thing I have done for the city of Wyoming but for a collaboration of things.”
“Tonight’s special honorees have been recognized by their peers, this is a peer-driven process,” Carmody said of the award process. “The awards you see tonight are recommended and voted on by their peers.”
Firefighter of the Year
Firefighter Bowman has served as the director of the Wyoming Public Safety Fire Divisions Quarter Master Program since its creation in 2014. He is responsible for providing clothing and equipment for full-time, part-time, dual trained and on call firefighters. Of Bowman, Carmody said, in supplied material: “We commend him for his bravery and thank him for his service. His commitment to the department and his continued display of courage in emergencies serves as an exemplary role model for his peers.”
“I am very pleased to accept this award from my peers that I work with everyday,” Bowman said.
Civilian of the Year
Zaagman, a building maintenance worker for the City of Wyoming, has served the community for over 40 years and remains an integral part of keeping the department operating successfully. “Milt defines responsibility,” a release by the Pubic Safety Department stated. “He is often seen before the sunrises and on days off shoveling the sidewalks or sweeping leaves from garages, according to a peer panel evaluation. He is highly respected among his peers. His name is synonymous with kindness, respect, service and selflessness throughout the department.”
“I have 41 years with the City of Wyoming, with the police department,” Zaagman said. “Back in the ’60s, when I was in the military, I understood exactly what a brotherhood and sisterhood was, and I have felt accepted and felt that same thing with all these years with the Wyoming police department.”
Chiefs Awards of Professional Excellence
Dornbos, the fire divisions emergency medical technician coordinator, established a mutually supportive relationship with Metro Health. This partnership led to a $10,000 grant, which allowed the department to purchase advanced medical equipment and fund the training of their full-time firefighters as EMTs. “Brads dedication to improved service has been instrumental in enabling our department to save more lives,” Carmody said in supplied material. “The ability to provide improved services to our residents and our community is because of his hard work.”
“It is an honor to receive the award,” Dornbos said. “It’s definitely a team effort amongst my lieutenant, chief, and our crew that we all work together… it’s a reaffirmation that we’re doing the right thing and moving forward to help the citizens of Wyoming and hopefully save more lives with the upgraded licensure and with the future accreditation coming forward.”
VerHage has served on the department for 24 years and has been forefront on many of its most important criminal cases. “Detective VerHage has been a top candidate of this award many times, but this year was his year,” Carmody said in supplied material. “Each day he embodies our values of honor, courage, duty and trust through his determination and dedication.”
“It is very humbling. The chief was very gracious, by what he said,” VerHage said. “I am very thankful and grateful for my coworkers, everybody I get to work with. This is a team effort and anything that I did is only possible because of my coworkers and everybody that helps out with every case. Every complaint, everything that comes into the police department from our civilians, to all of our police officers, detectives, and the admin as well. It’s very nice what he said and very gracious and there’s many many more deserving of this award, so, thank you.”
For more information on the City of Wyoming Department of Public Safety, visit the city’s new website at wyomingmi.gov .