Independence paused for a moment Friday to honor those who face danger as part of their daily work.
Several of those honored at the First Responders Recognition & Awards Breakfast, an Independence Chamber of Commerce event, were on the scene during the incident nearly a year ago when Independence Police Officer Tom Wagstaff was shot and badly wounded. He continues to recover.
Police Chief Brad Halsey said, “... the community was there for us, providing support that was much needed.”
That morning, Independence Fire Pumper 5 and American Medical Response unit 310 were dispatched to a quiet neighborhood in southwest Independence. The initial call was an assault, then that an officer was down.
Inside a home on Delaware, two men had beaten and terrorized a resident. They stole his SUV, backed it through his garage door and, while escaping, exchanged fire with police. In that melee, Wagstaff was hit. (The men were caught a short time later. All four men charged in connection with the incident are awaiting trial.)
As Pumper 5 arrived, firefighters realized that police still had guns drawn and that this was “an active hot scene.” Capt. Billy Clark – not knowing where a shooter might be – moved his unit in to shield the AMR ambulance so it could get to a place where a police officer dragged Wagstaff. The ambulance was in and out in seconds.
Clark also set up a screen for a second AMR unit that took the assault victim to the hospital.
The Award for Heroism was given to Clark and to firefighters Matt Hefferman, Barnett Cardin and John Brown, and the award for dedication was given to AMR employees James Hull and J.T. Sullivan.
Three other firefighters also were cited – the Award for Bravery – for their actions under possible fire. At mid-morning on Sept. 26, 2017, Pumper 6 was sent to the scene of an active shooter in the 600 block of North Peck Court.
Knowing that the shooter was still at large, Capt. Jeff Weimhold began treating a shooting victim. Firefighters Ryan Waters and Jared Cogan found and began treating a second victim about 75 yards away. Unfortunately, one of the victims died.
One more firefighter, Justin Selsor, was honored with the Award of Dedication. Pumper 9 was sent to the scene of a reported tractor-trailer fire on Nov. 23, 2016. They found no fire, but a brake on the truck had locked up and was smoking and steaming. The crew used pressurized water cans to cool the brake.
At one point, Selsor had to climb onto the back of the truck to keep cooling the brake. Then one of the truck’s tires exploded, throwing Selsor into the air. He was badly injured – enough that it ended his career as a firefighter – but he was wearing his personal protective gear, which may have saved his life.
Chief Halsey was given a special citation for outstanding leadership in the time after Wagstaff was wounded. For an extended time, Halsey essentially moved police headquarters to the ICU waiting room at Centerpoint Medical Center, directing the department while also tending to the needs of the Wagstaff family.
“He is a man who demonstrates the highest character and embodies integrity,” Chamber Board Chair Jonathan Zerr said.