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Cornelius News

Our First Responders Run Toward Trouble

Firefighters Bradley Blackmon and Justin Ranson are part of the team at the Cornelius Lemley Volunteer Fire Department. They are pictured at Station No. 1 near downtown Cornelius

Firefighters Bradley Blackmon and Justin Ranson are part of the team at the Cornelius Lemley Volunteer Fire Department. They are pictured at Station No. 1 near downtown Cornelius

By Dave Yochum. The year hasn’t been an easy time for First Responders, although, really, it never is. Police have made news around the country, but not in Cornelius, thank God. But a Cornelius Police officer was shot in the line of duty a year ago and in the past couple of months, three firefighters from Charlotte and Lake Norman lost their lives in the line of duty.

These men and women are on the front lines day and night. Behind a stoic face, they’re real people.

“I would like people to know that our men and women are no different than other professionals. They have the same intelligence and drive and often education to be very successful entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, governors and presidents as those that choose that path. Most love their job because it is fundamentally one of the most complex professions there is,” says Cornelius Police Chief Bence Hoyle, himself a law enforcement veteran.

There are no simple answers to problems. First Responders see us at our worst and best, yet they sometimes have to presume the worst to stay alive.

“There is a tremendous amount of second-guessing of almost every aspect of their jobs, and there are generally no risk-rewards for them that would make sense in a business environment,” Hoyle says.

Indeed, there is less support in the criminal justice system today than there was five, 10 and 25 years ago.

Often, criminals are back at their homes after serious offenses before the police officer is done with the paperwork. 

“But police officers know they can make the difference in people’s lives—especially those people who are in crisis. That motivation is strong,” Hoyle says.

Law enforcement agencies around the country are having a tough time recruiting officers, in light of the national news. Meanwhile, Baby Boomers are aging out. And the job—whether it’s a police officer or a firefighter—isn’t for everybody.

First responders know that ordinary situations can turn bad fast. Whether it’s a fire, medical emergency or a police situation—bam—it happens in a flash. Look at what’s happened in Sandy Hook, Orlando, San Bernardino, Virginia Tech, Charleston.

“When they are out enjoying time with the family they are always evaluating situations. They will usually select a specific booth that gives them good vantage points and will watch almost every person that enters a restaurant. While most will call that paranoia, they call it situational awareness and not only have they trained for it, they have experienced it more times in a shift than most people will in their lifetime,” Hoyle says.

There is an assumption that life is normal when a police officer is off-duty. It is far from it.

We asked four First Responders to talk about life.

A tale of two Police officers

Officer Patrick Maldarelli and Officer Mat Ferrucci are with the Cornelius Police Department

Officer Patrick Maldarelli and Officer Mat Ferrucci are with the
Cornelius Police Department

Patrick Maldarelli is the kind of guy you want to talk to at a party or church dinner. He is engaging and sharp as a tack when it comes to quick comeback or something truly preposterous uttered with a perfect deadpan expression. At age 41, he has been an officer for eight and a half years, having spent four years in the US Marines.

He’s come face to face with Cornelius at its worst. A few years ago he pulled over a reckless driver, who got out of the car and screamed, “just kill me, just kill me.” Maldarelli says every officer handles stress differently: “Some are into working out and some into video games.” Church is important to him. Maldarelli is part of the Spanish ministry at Grace Covenant.

In recent years there has been a great deal of anti-police sentiment. Some of it is justified, of course, but for the vast majority of police officers it is unwarranted. Sometimes when an officer makes a mistake and is in the news it is because some politically correct process makes it nearly impossible to do the right thing in a matter of seconds.

Mat Ferrucci, 34, says becoming a police officer was “in my head since I was a little kid.” Somehow along the way he got into the boating industry and became manager at Holiday Marina. Now he’s assigned to the police boat, which means he’s out on Lake Norman 12 months a year, in warm weather and cold. His wife Christine Ferrucci is a part-time police officer.

“It’s good because we can relate to what we’re talking about, not just ‘uh-huh.’ She can relate to what I’m saying and vice versa at the end of the day,” he says.

Maldarelli and Ferrucci have good people skills. Indeed, part of the job is being able to defuse tense situations. “We don’t come off as stern and authoritative,” Ferruucci said. “You are not going to make it in police work if you have that attitude.”

Two Cornelius firefighters

First there was a young Pineville volunteer firefighter, Richard Sheltra. Then Capt. Bradley Long of Sherrill’s Ford-Terrell Fire and Rescue. Then Joshua Warren, a Lincoln County firefighter. His casket rode on Engine 34 to his funeral.

“It brings reality back into perspective,” says Cornelius firefighter Justin Ranson, 29. “It’s what we deal with on a daily basis. It hits home…a lot of the guys here knew either Sheltra or Long,” Ranson said a few days before Warren died.

“I guess at first I was surprised something like this could happen this close to home…at first shock and unbelievable…we will try to work through it and try to better ourselves and make sure it doesnt happen again,” the Cornelius resident said.

Often overlooked is the sacrifice of first responder families, often the ones that sacrifice the most. There is no such thing as consistent family time. Police officers work 12 hour rotating shifts; firefighters often work 24-hour shifts. Routines are tough to establish.

Bradley Blackmon, 31, has been on the volunteer force here for six years. A full-time Charlotte fireman, he says there’s active strategery around where fire fighters bunk down: You sleep far away from those who snore. Box fans help drown out sound.

“It’s hard to settle into a routine,” he says. Of course, other peoples’ crises rule both day and night. He likes the adrenaline rush of being a firefighter, having volunteered as a junior firefighter in Mt. Mourne when he was a kid. He and his wife have a baby due Aug. 17. “She always says ‘be careful, I love you,” Blackmon says.

He plans to retire as a fireman.

Our police are good sports

The Dunk a Cop dunk booth at National Night Out Aug. 2 will be sponsored by—you guessed it—Dunkin Donuts. National Night Out, a nationwide tradition dating back to 1984, will be held from 6 pm to 8 pm around the gazebo in Jetton Village. The community/police awareness-raising event,  which features booths and activities for children, is hosted by the Cornelius Police Department and the PARC Department. The Cornelius-Lemley Volunteer Fire Dept. will also be onsite with fire trucks as well. There will be a kid zone, a bounce slide and entertainment provided by DJ Bob. Tenders and Kool Kat snow cones will be on-site as well.