COLLIER COUNTY — Collier County deputy Patricia Villa simply summed up the 2009 Distinguished Public Service Award winners.
They don’t do it for the glory.
“I want you to know that this is something that we do, not just me, but everybody in the department,” said Villa in a video. “This is why we do this job: to help people, to serve people.”
Villa was one of three honorees recognized at Wednesday’s ceremony at the Naples Hilton, for her efforts saving 9-month old Avi Gomez back in May. Baby Avi swallowed a plastic star and was choking when Villa, who once taught first aid for the American Red Cross, responded to his Golden Gate Estates home and performed back slaps to dislodge the toy.
Also honored were Collier Emergency Medical Services Firefighter/ Paramedic Paul Passaretti and Golden Gate Fire Control and rescue District Engineer Jesus Padilla.
Sponsored by the The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, The Naples Daily News and several community partners, Wednesday’s ceremony marked the program’s sixth year of recognizing law enforcement, firefighter and emergency medical services personnel for an extraordinary act well beyond normal expectations.
Naples Daily News Publisher Chris Doyle called Wednesday’s award ceremony a worthwhile cooperative effort aimed at recognizing and publicly thanking “individuals from various agencies for their diligent service to our community.”
And the selection process was not easy, Doyle said.
The 2009 Distinguished Public Service Award committee, chaired by Naples Art Association Executive Director Joel Kessler and Edison State College President Jeff Allbritten, went through hundreds of nominations and finally selected this year’s winners.
Villa was nominated by the public, while both Padilla and Passaretti were nominated by their departments.
Although Villa was unable to attend Wednesday’s ceremony, Brenda O’Connor with the Chamber, said each recipient found out a few weeks ago that they got the award during unannounced visits by this year’s award committee members.
“They were surprised in front of their peers,” said O’Connor, the Chamber’s vice president, during an interview. “We tried to get them at staff meetings, when they had their peers supporting them.”
It was an unexpected surprise, said Padilla, who was recognized for his efforts during a July rescue involving a car submerged 25 feet underwater in a lake with zero visibility.
“It’s an honor just to be nominated, let alone to receive the award,” said Padilla after the awards.
Golden Gate Fire Chief Robert “Bob” Metzger said the fact Padilla went in despite the odds, was proof of the dedication first responders have to saving lives.
Padilla thanked the department and credited his family’s love and support for helping him do his job.
Collier Emergency Medical Services Firefighter/ Paramedic Paul Passaretti agreed with Padilla, and added that a public service jobs are especially tough on loved ones.
“Without a strong family support, none of us would be here today,” said Passaretti who described his family’s understanding of having to celebrate Christmas either two days before or two days after the fact, and spending Thanksgiving at the station instead of at home. “I cannot tell you how much support I have.”
Passaretti was recognized for his 18 years of service with Collier County.
“I am truly grateful and again I am truly humbled,” said Passaretti at the end of his acceptance speech. “I will continue to serve as long as I can.”