WEST CHESTER — Those who fought the devastating fire at the Ashwood Apartments in North Coventry last year, as well as some who stood up to help the dozens of residents displaced by the blaze, were among those honored last week by the Chester County District Attorney’s Office.
Along with members of the Norco Fire Company, which led the battle to contain the blaze that caused $5 million in damages and left more than 100 people homeless, given a commendation for their work after the arson were the Office of Chester County Fire Marshall John Weer, the North Coventry Police Department, and the Rev. Hosh Park, pastor of BranchLife Church and organizer of a volunteer efforts to help the displaced residents.
The honor came at the annual awards event held Friday by the D.A.’s Office recognize the efforts of law enforcement and others “for their extraordinary efforts to make Chester County a better and safer place,” according to a press release.
Said District Attorney Deb Ryan said: “In our respective roles, it is the duty of each of us to serve and protect our communities. For most of us, this is a calling. We understand the critical importance of helping those in need, regardless of threat, danger, or obstacle, because it is our job to make this world a better place.
“Many of the award recipients repeatedly demonstrated heroic efforts by saving children from horrific abuse, tracking down and capturing killers, removing poison and deadly weapons from our streets, or going into burning buildings to save the lives of hundreds of people,” she said.
“Some were part of the crucial effort to keep all of us safe from a deadly pandemic because, as essential workers, we never stopped our service to the community,” said Ryan. “Others fought the good fight for justice in the courtroom while helping victims navigate an often complicated and traumatizing process.
“And some sought out ways to improve law enforcement’s relationships with communities of color and affect positive change to criminal justice reform in response to national tragedies. Even though our professions are highly scrutinized and sometimes vilified, I am reminded every day that what we do matters. Each award recipient consistently contributes to making this county a better place, facing down danger, working long hours, and selflessly serving those around them despite all the challenges,” she said.
The July 30, 2020 Ashwood fire was among the most destructive single fire in recent county history. It was allegedly started by a resident of the complex, who authorities started a small blaze in her apartment and then escaped the building before it could be extinguished.
Defendant Toni Kirk of Collegeville is currently being held in Chester County Prison charged with two counts of causing or risking a catastrophe; three counts of aggravated assault; seven counts of simple assault and 250 accounts of recklessly endangering another person, all felonies. She is awaiting trial in Common Pleas Court. She was charged after a criminal investigation into the fire.
The awards presented included:
Prosecutor of the Year Deputy District Attorney Erin O’Brien, who leads the office’s Child Abuse Unit and who was among those responsible for breaking up a child sex trafficking organization in East Whiteland in 2020;
Detective of the Year Chester County Detective Gary Lynch and Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Pennsylvania State Police Corporal Stefano Gallina; and Administrative Professional of the Year Office Manager Cheryl Greener.
Among those organizations, agencies and individuals receiving commendations were:
The Phoenixville Borough Police Department for its exemplary efforts and teamwork in providing justice to the family of a murdered teenager; the Chester County Department of Emergency Services for its outstanding and continuous efforts in supporting law enforcement and first responders during the global Covid-19 pandemic; Edward McFadden for his outstanding dedication, commitment, and service as the warden of Chester County Prison for 15 years; and Chris Saello of the United Way and DeVon Jackson for their extraordinary efforts in improving relationships between law enforcement and our communities in Chester County.
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.
To contact Staff Writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.