Honored As San Marino’s Police, Fire Employees of the Year
The San Marino Chamber of Commerce honored Police Sgt. Candice Torres and Firefighter-Paramedic Jeff Tsay for their commitment to the community and for going above and beyond the call of duty at its 9th Annual Fire & Police Appreciation Luncheon.
The event on Thursday, Sept. 22 at San Marino Center also was meant to celebrate San Marino’s police and firefighter/paramedics for keeping the city safe, as well as to honor individuals who lost their lives on 9/11.
“It’s hard to believe that 9/11 was 15 years ago,” event co-chair Anne Turk said. “When reflecting back to that time, the days following 9/11, we seemed to have come together in all of our communities. There was such a sense of patriotism and pride throughout our country 15 years ago. We seem to have come so far from that.”
She mentioned terrorist attacks in the U.S. and abroad as well as unrest in some American cities. Turk addressed those wearing a uniform and badge, saying, “We know you go out every day to protect and serve us. It’s so important for us to stand here today to say that we’ve got your back, too.”
One individual in the audience had a recent personal experience in which the actions of the San Marino Police and Fire Departments saved her life. After the life jacket of 3-year-old Chanelle Hong slipping off during a family pool party on June 5, she began drowning. Her family called 911 and SMPD Cpl. Victor Gee was first to respond, beginning a series of actions that led to Chanelle’s life being saved through the teamwork of the city fire and police departments.
Event emcee Jim Anderson, a former San Marino fire chief, said, “It always warms my heart to see so many people turn out to support these wonderful public servants. We re ally appreciate all the work these men and women do every day of the year.”
San Marino Police Chief John Incontro remarked that one of the aspects that stands out about Torres—her involvement in the community—is also one of the criteria for the ‘Officer of the Year’ award. He talked about how SMPD officers, along with retired police Lt. Paula Byrd, offered a women’s self defense course to different community groups.
“Candice, along with other officers, continued that program,” Incontro said. “Within this year, we’ve provided training to Girl Scouts, girls who are attending Southwestern Academy and to the National Charity League as well as others. Candice is always willing to step up and she understands how important it is that we provide that service.”
Incontro said that Torres developed the police department’s new program, ‘Coffee With A Cop,’ where SMPD officers welcome community members to speak to them at a place that serves coffee.
“We have no agenda and we have no program,” Incontro said. “It’s an opportunity for the community to come and ask us any questions.”
He said Torres also is deeply involved with the Neighborhood Watch Program and said she does amazing work “catching bad guys.”
“For that I’m thankful,” the police chief said. “She mirrors the work that all of the officers in San Marino do for you each and every night.”
Torres said she was extremely honored to receive the recognition, which was unexpected. She asked her fellow San Marino police colleagues to stand up and said, “They deserve the recognition as well because we all do the same type of job.”
“Being a police officer is hard work,” Torres said. “We all go missing holidays, kid’s birthdays and special events. But we all do it because we love what we do. After 10 years of being here, I can honestly say that I love coming to work—maybe a little too much, if you ask my husband.”
Torres was promoted to sergeant in June 2015 and has been on special and crisis negotiation for the regional SWAT team. In addition to being a women’s self defense instructor, she also is a bicycle patrol officer and drug recognition expert. Torres is currently pursuing her master’s degree in public administration from Cal ifornia State, Long Beach. She and her husband, Mark, have three children: Raymond, 18, Arianna, 4, and Brianna, 2.
San Marino Fire Chief Mario Rueda said Tsay, who has been with the SMFD for six years, is a “special employee” and is the only Chinese-speaking member of the fire department.
“When he got into the fire department, he got very involved,” Rueda said. “One of his most significant achievements in the 10 months that I’ve been here is that he’s taken on the position of paramedic coordinator. If you weren’t aware, about 90 percent of what we do here in San Marino is medical work.”
He continued, “Jeff has done an outstanding job at bringing together our program. He’s upgraded our engine to a full paramedic engine that has the full capabilities that the ambulance now has.”
Rueda said Tsay completed additional training and coursework, and is now part of the San Gabriel Valley arson investigation team. He’s also a fireline medic with the Master Mutual Aid System in California.
“What’s most impressive about Jeff is his kindness and compassion,” Rueda said. “Jeff really epitomizes what I found here in San Marino, which is really a culture amongst these firefighters and police officers of compassion and truly caring for this community.”
Tsay was unable to attend the ceremony because he scheduled a vacation to Hawaii before knowing about the award. There was a video played of San Marino Chamber President Stewart Rogers presenting Tsay with the award at the fire station before Tsay left.
Tsay thanked the chamber, his family and his fellow firefighters.
“We all do our jobs wholeheartedly because we love what we do,” he said. “You never have the expectation of being recognized but when we do get recognized, it’s really a good feeling.”
Tsay has a degree in criminal justice from California State, Fullerton and later attended Mount San Antonio College for EMT school followed by Paramedic School. Tsay started at the SMFD in 2008 as an auxiliary and later became a firefighter/paramedic in 2010. He is vice president of the San Marino Firefighters’ Association and has coordinated its Pancake Breakfast for the past two years. Tsay recently taught a CERT class for the Chinese Club of San Marino and has helped the chamber set up its “Santa’s House” for Christmas Around the Drive. He and his wife, MaryAnn, have a 21-month-old daughter, Kadence, and are expecting a son in November.
SMFD Capt. Jason Sutliff, who was accepting the award on Tsay’s behalf, introduced Tsay’s mother and father in the audience in addition to Chanelle and her family.
“It’s nice to see the firefighter and the police officers are here together being recognized,” he said, saying that the two departments work side by side.
Rita Hadjimanoukian, representing Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, presented a certificate of commendation to Torres and Sutliff, who accepted on behalf of Tsay.
She told Torres, “What a great role model you are for your children and little girls everywhere” and said Tsay and the SMFD provide peace of mind for the community.
Assemblyman Ed Chau awarded certificates of recognition to the pair.
“I’m very delighted to be here to recognize two outstanding public servants,” he said. “It is so important that we build a rapport and a bond between law enforcement, government and the community.”
City Councilman Steve Talt spoke on behalf of San Marino City Council and congratulated Torres and Tsay.
“As a member of city council, I’ve learned over the past nine months just how much work you put in,” he said. “As a citizen, I see you out there in your truck or in your car. I know how much work you put in having been on the scene of several incidents and know the sacrifices that not only you make, but also your family makes. We appreciate that.”
The San Marino High School Chamber Choir performed “America the Beautiful” and “Hosanna in Excelsios.”
San Marino Chamber of Commerce had elected to donate the luncheon proceeds to charities of the San Marino Police and Fire Departments’ choice.
In addition to Turk, Diana Doi also co-chaired the luncheon. The event committee included Rita Rodriguez, Marci Donovan, Shelley Gilmore, Dr. Fary Yassamy, Pete Loeffler, Robert Houston and Rogers.