FOP honors 3 local officers for Wilmerding house fire heroics

| Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 91 recognized area police for going above and beyond the call of duty as they responded to a Wilmerding fire.

Kirk Kotchig, Erick Lakin and Travis Pomaibo of North Versailles Township Police Department and Daniel Pici of Turtle Creek Police Department were among those who received 2012 Law Enforcement Awards during the FOP's Law Enforcement Recognition Night. The event took place Friday at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5008 in East Pittsburgh.

On the morning of June 14, 2011, Kotchig smelled something burning as he patrolled through Wilmerding. He came upon the scene of a residential structure fire in the 400 block of Patton Street, with flames coming from the third floor.

"I noticed a smoky haze and smelled the smoke," Kotchig recalled. "I followed a smoke trail to that house."

Pici heard Kotchig's request for assistance, and arrived on scene at the same time as Pomaibo.

"(Kotchig) was trying to make entry to the front door, and we went to the side door," Pici said.

The group entered the residence because they could not wake the occupants from outside.

Kotchig and Pici, who were present to accept awards Friday, said they knew their task was to get residents out of the burning home. When officers made entry, the second floor was filled with smoke.

They said being recognized by the FOP is an honor.

"It's not something you think about," Kotchig said. "You definitely don't go on a call thinking you're going to get an award for something."

North Versailles police Chief Vincent DiCenzo Jr. said he is proud of his officers.

"They went above and beyond the call of duty to go into a burning structure," he said. "It shows the character and dedication of my police department."

DiCenzo said Friday's recognition was not the first time North Versailles officers have received FOP awards.

In 2010, Kotchig and Pomaibo were honored. In 2006, then-Sgt. DiCenzo was recognized alongside fellow township officers Mark Hetherington, James Matrazzo and Thomas Nee. In 2004, Todd Corbett and Joseph Volker were honored.

FOP Awards Committee chairman Floyd Nevling, retired Pleasant Hills police chief, said it's important for officers to be recognized by the peers who understand the dangers of their job.

"In the police service today, a lot of officers are upset about the increase in police murders nationally and in our region," Nevling said. "When I would go to work, I never went out the door thinking, 'This is it.' When it happens, you're never prepared."

Nevling said the FOP is proud to recognize dedicated officers.

"One thing we do is recognize officers for having done exceptional activities or made exceptional arrests," Nevling said. "All too often, police departments don't recognize their officers when they do something exceptional."

Nevling applauded DiCenzo for praising North Versailles officers consistently for a job well done.

North Versailles Township commissioner Russ Saula, who was present for the ceremony, said the township as a whole is undoubtedly proud of its officers.

"I'm just here to show support for them, for their service, for their valor," Saula said.

Additional officers recognized Friday were Jonathan Pawlowski and James Hredzak of Monroeville and Donald Hamlin and Daniel White of Wilkinsburg.

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