On the 18th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Marion County held their third annual Public Safety Night on the square in Knoxville.

The event honored local first responders across Marion County, while also honoring the memory of the first responders who lost their lives during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"9/11 is one of those things that impacted everybody," said Chief of Pella Ambulance Greg Higginbotham. "It changed the way we thought about fire, changed the way we thought about law enforcement, changed the way we thought about EMS... People were so proud of the stuff that happened that day and the way people responded and acted selflessly to help people in need. That's something that we'll never forget."

During the family-friendly evening, community members were able to get an up-close look at fire trucks, police cruisers, road maintenance vehicles and ambulances. They were also able to have conversations with local first responders and law enforcement personnel.

Marion County Public Safety Night came out of a discussion between Marion County Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Anderson and Dr. Bob Leonard of KNIA/KRLS three years ago. The pair wanted to recognize what local first responders for all they do to help the people of Marion County.

This year brought a new addition to Public Safety Night. Five local first responders received awards for their service to the county. Awards were given for Law Enforcement Officer of the Year, Public Works/Engineering Person of the Year, Emergency Medical Services Person of the Year, Dispatcher of the Year, Firefighter of the Year and Public Safety Person of the Year.

Officer Andrew Shinkle, of the Pella Police Department, was named Marion County Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. Shinkle said he is driven by his desire to keep his family and everyone else in the community safe and seeing the community we live in becoming a safer place.

Public Works/Engineering Person of the Year was awarded to Richard Vander Veer, who is employed in the County Engineer’s office. Despite the early mornings that come with his job, Vander Veer says he really enjoys his job and that it is his biggest priority to keep the roads safe.

Firefighter of the Year went to Pat Silvers of the Bussey Fire Department. Silvers said he felt privileged to receive the award and be recognized, adding that he thought there were hundreds of volunteers who were probably more deserving than him. He said he does this work because he was to give back to the community.

Jason Ford was awarded Emergency Medical Services Person of the Year. Ford works in multiple departments throughout the county, including Pella Ambulance, Melcher-Dallas Fire Department and Knoxville Fire Department. Upon receiving his award, Ford said, “I’d like to thank everybody else in the community. There’s people that do a lot more than I do, but I’m being recognized today, so I’d like to thank them for what they do.”

Dispatcher of the Year was awarded to Kaci Visser of the Pella Police Department. Visser acknowledged that her job is sometimes difficult, but that she does not do it alone. She stated that help from other dispatchers and responders help to get the job done.

Visser was also named the 2019 Marion County Public Safety Person of the Year.

“I appreciate it. I’m humbled,” she said. “There are so many other people in Marion County who deserve this award. I’m just grateful I get the privilege to work with them every day.”

Nominations for the awards were submitted by individuals who currently work in public safety. They were judged and selected by Warren County Sheriff Brian Vos, along with Indianola Police Chief Dave Button, Indianola Fire Chief Gregory Chia and dispatchers from Warren County.

The awards ceremony was facilitated by Dr. Bob Leonard, Knoxville Fire Chief Cal Wyman and Chief of Pella Ambulance Greg Higginbotham.

Knoxville Hy-Vee joined in sponsoring the event and awards, along with KNIA/KRLS and the Marion County Emergency Response Association. Hy-Vee was also provided dinner with a free-will offering.

Emma Skahill can be reached at eskahill@journalexpress.net or by calling the newsroom at 641-842-2155.

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