VFW Post presents Fire­fighter, Of­fi­cer of Year an­nual awards

An­nette Krocker, Erik Kupchik nom­i­nated by past, cur­rent co-work­ers

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - Local News - By Betsy Scott bscott@news-her­ald.com @re­porter­betsy on Twit­ter

An­nette Krocker doesn’t see her­self as de­serv­ing of Men­tor Vet­er­ans of For­eign Wars Post 9295’s an­nual Fire­fighter of the Year award.

Af­ter all, she’s not a fire­fighter. She has served as ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant to the Men­tor fire chief for the past 26-plus years.

How­ever, all three of the chiefs she has worked for were unan­i­mous in their sup­port for her re­ceiv­ing the $200 check award, for­mally pre­sented at the March 6 Men­tor City Coun­cil meet­ing. And all three were on hand to speak in her fa­vor.

“I served as your fire chief for 18 years, and dur­ing that time were some high points that made up my ca­reer, and cer­tainly one of the high­est points was when we were able to bring An­nette into the depart­ment,” said for­mer chief John Preuer, who re­tired in 2001. “She came in with skill sets that were fab­u­lous, and we saw her abil­ity to help with day-to­day op­er­a­tions to be out­stand­ing . ... She be­came lit­er­ally the right hand for my­self and vir­tu­ally ev­ery other com­man­der in the depart­ment.”

Even col­leagues through­out Lake County would con­tact Krocker when they needed some­thing done, for­mer chief Richard Har­vey added. He worked with her 12 years be­fore re­tir­ing in 2014.

“She lit­er­ally trans­formed the ser­vice de­liv­ery and the re­la­tion­ships that the Men­tor Fire Depart­ment had with the com­mu­nity, and no one was bet­ter suited for that than her,” Har­vey said. “There’s no one bet­ter that could be re­ceiv­ing this award.”

Cur­rent Chief Robert Sear­les said Krocker gives 110 per­cent, and he lauded her char­ac­ter, abil­i­ties, com­pas­sion, knowl­edge, job per­for­mance and more.

“She’s al­ways there for us,” he said.

Krocker will be do­nat­ing her check to her niece’s char­ity, the God­frey Pro­ject, for spe­cial-needs chil­dren and young adults in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

“Fire­fight­ers of the Year in my eyes are true he­roes,” she said. “Ev­ery day, they come to work and put them­selves out there not know­ing what each day will bring and risk their lives on a daily ba­sis. It takes a spe­cial per­son to be a fire­fighter, as well as a po­lice of­fi­cer, and they have all cho­sen this ca­reer and ded­i­cate them­selves to be the best that they can be. So truly, in my eyes, all the mem­bers of the Men­tor Fire Depart­ment are the real Fire­fight­ers of the Year, and I ac­cepted the award not for my­self, but for all the mem­bers of our depart­ment.”

VFW Ser­vice Of­fi­cer Bob Zon­neville also pre­sented a check to Po­lice Of­fi­cer of the Year Erik Kupchik. He was nom­i­nated by Men­tor Po­lice Capt. Ken Zbiegien, op­er­a­tions com­man­der.

He said Kupchik dis­tin­guishes him­self with his “ded­i­ca­tion, com­mit­ment and his work ef­forts that have im­pacted the com­mu­nity of Men­tor … by mak­ing the cit­i­zens of and the vis­i­tors to the city safer.”

He has been with the depart­ment more than 15 years, is a mem­ber of the Ag­gres­sive Crim­i­nal En­force­ment Unit, and is a field train­ing of­fi­cer and an ac­tive mem­ber of the United States Se­cret Ser­vice Elec­tronic Crimes Task Force.

Last year, he was awarded the Ohio Mothers Against Drunk Driv­ing “Award of Ex­cel­lence” and “Top Cop” for his traf­fic en­force­ment ef­forts in ad­dress­ing im­paired driv­ing.

Zon­neville ex­pressed a kin­ship for the safety forces.

“Our job is to help pro­tect the coun­try away from the bor­ders,” he said. “The fire­men and po­lice­men pro­tect our coun­try within our bor­ders. … We have a lot of re­spect for what they do.”

The win­ners are now in the run­ning for dis­trict — and po­ten­tially state — VFW awards.

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