More than 200 people gathered to honor public safety workers who serve Pacific Beach at the PB Town Council's 38th annual PAESAN (Police And Emergency Services Appreciation Night) community picnic on Sept. 26 in Crown Point Park.
The event also served as culmination of the Town Council's successful fundraiser (launched May 1) to collect $50,000 to supply Fire Station 21 at 750 Grand Ave., with equipment to reduce the risk of cancer among firefighters, who suffer a higher likelihood of the disease because of frequent contact with toxins associated with the job.
Guests enjoyed the barbecue lunch and raffle games for prizes, as local elected representatives poured praises over organizers and first-responders during the civic-oriented proceedings.
Referring to the public safety workers in attendance, Assemblyman Todd Gloria (District 78) said: "They're often overlooked, but I hope that for those of you being honored tonight, you know that we don't forget. We may not say 'thank you' enough, but all of us are grateful for what you do."
Added State Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (District 39): "This event is the essence of a real community. These citizens want their public safety folks to know they support them and they're willing to show them. I think that's why everybody comes to this. It's why the elected officials come, because they know they're going to see the community out in force supporting these public servants."
Other dignitaries giving remarks included local District 2 City Council member Lorie Zapf, City Attorney Mara Elliott, Police Chief David Nisleit, newly appointed Lifeguard Chief James Gartland, and Assistant Fire Chief Chris Webber, second in command in the department.
Awards were presented to individual officers selected by their department heads for superior service from four public safety departments — police, fire, lifeguards and park rangers (Mission Bay Park). The honorees were Police Lt. Steven Waldheim, Police Officer Steven Woodrow, Fire Engineer Glen Nakamaru, Lifeguard Sgt. Kerry Brown and Senior Park Ranger Karolyn Estrada-Sparlin.
While noting in his acceptance speech that public safety workers don't perform their duties to receive accolades, Nakamaru later observed that such public recognition goes a long way in tempering the hardships encountered on the job, such as deaths of victims and colleagues or unruly patients.
"We always try to maintain a really good attitude," Nakamaru told the crowd. "We go to a lot of things that sometimes bring you down in mood ... so to get something like this really reminds you there's a lot of positive people out there."
According to Lt. Waldheim, who also received the 2018 PB Neighborhood Watch Award that evening, recognition is a two-way street and the awards remind recipients that none of them could achieve excellence without the cooperation of the public they serve.
"By no means is it one person doing anything," he said. "It's a collaborative effort between everybody. There are so many community members I deal with on a weekly basis that are doing so much good by letting us know the issues and the problems."
Remarkable community spirit
Yet some recipients could barely recognize the community's outpouring of goodwill because they'd never seen it before and were thus overwhelmed. As the focus of the fundraiser to help prevent job-related cancer, Fire Station 21 Capt. Rich Marcello wore his heart on his sleeve in proclaiming his astonishment.
"I've worked in tons of districts throughout 20 years, I've worked in Orange County and LA, and not one single community has been this active," Marcello said. "Not one. At all. I'm not trying to put anybody down by any means, but what I'm trying to say is, this community; there's no explanation for it.
"Somebody might ask, why?" he added. "What is it that (they) get out of it? And the thing is, they don't want anything out of it but to help."
Friends Sara Gallacher and Raelene Escriba from Clairemont attended the PAESAN picnic for the first time. From afar, they said, the community's spirit is easy to recognize. "They've been doing this for 38 years," Gallacher remarked. "They always have support parties [to benefit others]. We love this area."
With attendance surpassing last year's PAESAN and top officials lining up to pay homage, PB Town Council vice president Brian White noted that the efforts of his organization were also being recognized: "This event shows that the great work the PB Town Council does in the community is undeniable."
Town Council member Denise Friedman led this year's fundraising efforts for the $50,000 to assist Fire Station 21, her third year at the helm. Asked to explain the motivation for the community's consistent support for its many members and institutions, Friedman pointed to three generations of the Wilding family who have always volunteered for PAESAN, starting with the late Mary Wilding, the event's co-founder. Friedman argued that PB residents always answer the call of the community, once they recognize it as home.
"We don't move away," she said. "We stay here. When someone stops doing something, someone else is there to fill the shoes to do it. When you have that kind of history, family history, it really carries on."