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Valley News Dispatch

Vandergrift police officer honored for community service by VFW

Mary Ann Thomas
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Vandergrift police Sgt. Tony DePanicis was recently honored by the Vandergrift Sgt. Leonard C. Kinkead VFW Post 566.

Vandergrift Police Sgt. Tony DePanicis knows listening is crucial to quality police work.

That, and not letting a 103-year-old woman grab her slippers during a house fire.

The Vandergrift VFW Post 566 recently honored DePanicis and Vandergrift Fire Co. No. 1 Chief Tom Schaeffer with its prestigious Community Service Award. The nominations made it to the VFW’s state level, which made the honor even sweeter.

Post Commander Carl Trusiak said recognizing those who go “above and beyond” for the community is a high priority for the VFW. That especially includes firefighters, police, EMTs and teachers.

For DePanicis, success is measured by how much a police officer, or really anyone, listens rather than talks.

“You learn a lot when you listen and treat people with respect,” DePanicis said. “Down the road, those are the people who come to you when you need help with a case.”

And there have been many cases since he started his police work almost 29 years ago.

DePanicis, 53, a lifelong resident, believes thinking tactically is essential to a long career in law enforcement. “Common sense will take you though this,” he said.

Just like when he rescued Winifred Aker, 103, from her burning Hamilton Avenue home in June 2007. She was sleeping in her second-floor bedroom when DePanicis picked her up and carried her out like a baby in his arms.

Aker wanted to put something on her feet.

“Honey — don’t worry about your slippers,” DePanicis remembers telling the woman.

As a police officer, he witnessed many life-changing moments.

The homicides and suicides left their impressions.

“There are things that don’t go away,” he said. Like a drowning when he found a child in a fetal position.

“Life is more fragile than people realize,” DePanicis said. “In the blink of an eye, you can go from being on cloud nine to being devastated.” The best DePanicis can do he said, is to be “proactive to prevent bad things from happening. On the reactive end, to help those who need the help.”

Schaeffer could not be reached for comment.

The VFW is looking for nominations for next year’s community service award.

VFW Post 566 now includes residents in Apollo and Leechburg in addition to Vandergrift, according to Trusiak.

Send nominations by Oct. 31 for police, EMS, firefighters and teachers to VFW Post 566, P.O. Box 55, Vandergrift, Pa., 15690.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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