NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision 

Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

New York State
Department of Correctional Services
David A. Paterson, Governor
Brian Fischer, Commissioner

Contact: Erik Kriss
Office of Public Information
(518) 457-8182

For immediate release:

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Correctional Services Commissioner Awards Medals to Seven Correction Officers Who Helped Fellow Citizens; Ceremony Also Honors 35 Who Died in the Line of Duty

Department of Correctional Services Commissioner Brian Fischer awarded seven medals today to Correction Officers for acts of bravery and courage in helping fellow citizens, while honoring the memory of employees who have died in the line of duty since 1861.

The ninth annual Memorial Service and Medals Ceremony took place at 4 p.m. at the Department’s Albany Training Academy on New Scotland Road.

Medal of Merit recipients (with full citations available at 4 p.m. at http://www.doccs.ny.gov/PressRel/08MemorialMedals/MedalCitations2008.html) are Correction Officers:

  • Terry Dyson of Downstate Correctional Facility (Dutchess County) , who seized a shotgun from a group of feuding mourners following a funeral in Poughkeepsie.
  • Stephen Chmielewski of Mid-State Correctional Facility (Oneida County), who helped pull a 67-year-old man out of a burning vehicle in the Town of Holland Patent.
  • Vito Rohr of Fishkill Correctional Facility (Dutchess County) , who rescued a burning man and safely evacuated residents and his own family during a fire in Newburgh.
  • Owen Garritt of Eastern Correctional Facility (Ulster County) , who helped save a 13-year-old lightning victim in Sullivan County despite temporary partial paralysis from lightning himself.
  • Rodney Pfendler of Marcy Correctional Facility (Oneida County) , who helped pull a 67-year-old man out of a burning vehicle in the Town of Holland Patent.
  • Shawn Caouette of Mid-State Correctional Facility (Oneida County) , who successfully assisted a Utica Police Officer in apprehending a resisting suspect.
  • Jody Slater of Coxsackie Correctional Facility (Greene County) , who rescued trapped passengers from a dangerous accident scene on the New York State Thruway.

Photographs from the ceremony will be available this evening at http://www.doccs.ny.gov/PressRel/08MemorialMedals/index.html

In a message, Governor David A. Paterson said: “It is my high honor to join all of you in paying tribute to the dedicated men and women who ensure the safety and security of New York’s prison system and, in so doing, the people of this great State.

“The proud ranks of those thousands of dedicated Department employees include the extraordinary individuals being honored today – those who risked their own lives and safety to protect their fellow citizens.”

Michael Balboni, Deputy Secretary to the Governor for Public Safety, said: “Public protection is a round-the-clock job. By risking their own lives while off duty to assist others in need, today's medal recipients demonstrated the kind of commitment, dedication and vigilance that helps keep our State safe. Governor Paterson and I commend today’s medal recipients, and we offer our heartfelt gratitude to those whose loved ones made the ultimate sacrifice on the job. We also extend our support and thanks to all of the more than 31,000 men and women who make up not only the largest law enforcement agency in New York but the largest executive agency in the State. The hard and dangerous work they do, day in and day out, keeps our prisons, and therefore our communities, secure.”

Senator Dale M. Volker of Erie County, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Criminal and Civil Codes, said: “Every year the individuals we recognize today powerfully remind us of the enormous suffering and sacrifices made to ensure our safety from those who simply cannot abide by our laws. It is a constant reminder that freedom is never free; it is a gift, selflessly purchased by others and at times at great personal cost. The names inscribed in Correctional Services' memorial room and commemorated by the memorial itself are not simply names, but a vivid reminder and warning of the perils and the price of complacency in our still dangerous and unpredictable world of Corrections.”

Assemblyman Tim Gordon of Albany County said: “Nowhere in State service is the contribution greater than that which is given to us daily by the Correctional Services employees of New York State. The Assembly recognizes the significance of this contribution and acknowledges this exemplary service.”

Commissioner Fischer said: “What today’s medal recipients demonstrated is the spirit of dedication, professionalism and selflessness that makes our correctional system among the safest in the nation. While the acts of heroism we honor today occurred outside prison perimeters, they resulted from the qualities that define correctional employees: courage, skill and a sense of moral obligation to do what must be done to maintain safety.”

Paying tribute to the 35 employees who died in the line of duty, Commissioner Fischer added: “We all owe a debt of gratitude to our fallen co-workers for their commitment to this Department. Recognizing them as heroes is our way of staying connected to them as we continue their commitment to our correctional system.”

The annual ceremony takes place at the permanent memorial park in front of the Academy building on the 50-acre Albany campus. Since 1984, the Department has awarded 98 medals of merit and 46 medals of honor. The centerpiece of the memorial park in front of the Academy is an Empire blue granite memorial that stands 12 feet high, six feet wide, 18 inches deep and weighs 19,711 pounds. The names of fallen employees are enshrined with plaques displayed in the Academy Memorial Room. Governor Paterson's proclamation of June 1-7, 2008, as "Correctional Services Employee Week" is also on display there.