April 3, 2013

First responders, Hometown Hero recognized


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Adam Gonyea’s first experience at a fatal accident happened about a year after he passed the emergency medical technician test.

On Dec. 3, 2012, a car hit Charles Signaigo, who was riding his bike along Route 9 near Cumberland 12 Cinemas in the Town of Plattsburgh.

Gonyea was instructed to direct traffic around the accident site.

Passers-by slowed, trying to get a look at what had happened, he said.

“It made me upset that everyone wanted to take a peek.”

Their curiosity was putting him and other first responders in danger, he said.

“I almost got clipped a couple times by cars. I had to jump out of the way.”

So he stepped in front of Signaigo, continuing to conduct traffic while shielding wandering eyes from the tragedy.


Gonyea, 19, signed up for Cumberland Head Volunteer Fire Department/EMS on his 18th birthday and became a certified EMT in December 2011.

He began studying for the EMT test before he was 18, since candidates need only be that age when they sit for the exam, he explained.

His first year as an EMT has been a whirlwind.

“You do things that you didn’t ever think that you were capable of doing,” he said. “It’s a lot at once.”

He was recently named EMS Provider of the Year by the Clinton County Firefighters Association at the annual banquet, held at Rainbow Wedding and Banquet Hall in Altona.

Gonyea was in the airport waiting for a flight to Florida when his name was announced, though.

A phone call brought the good news.

“I was shocked,” he said. “I could not believe it.”


Stanley Russell Jr., fire chief of Ellenburg Center Volunteer Fire Department, felt the same way when his name was called for Firefighter of the Year.

“I knew nothing about it,” he said. “I was a little too stunned to say anything.”

So he thanked the members of his department for all their hard work.

“I certainly wouldn’t be here without them.”

Russell, 40, became a junior firefighter when he was 16 and has been one ever since.

“It kind of runs in the blood,” since many of his family members have been firefighters or EMTs.

Russell has responded to countless emergency calls.

“You still learn something new every day,” he said.

He tries to find the good in the dismal situation of a house fire, directing fire victims to sentimental items that can be salvaged and provide them with hope.

“People think they’ve lost everything in the fire, but yet you try to tell them to look off in the corner, and every once in a while you will find that little thing that means ever so much, whether it be a family picture that was just tucked into a bunch of blankets.”


Kent Martin, 47, co-chair of the association’s Fire Prevention Committee, has spent 18 years as a fire-prevention educator.

And this year, he is tops at that job.

“It should have been the whole department,” he said of his Fire Prevention Educator of the Year award. “It’s not just one person. We work as teams.”

For Martin, being a kid at heart helps when working with children.

“You’ve got to be to the point and quick, but it’s also got to be interesting and fun for them,” he said.

The biggest education event of the year for him is at the Clinton County Fair, where he conducts fire-safety demonstrations, he said.

“We estimate between 2,500 and 2,600 kids go through that building.”

Even though he has taught thousands of children how to stay safe, his job never gets boring, he said.

“Every kid is different. Every situation is different. I just love teaching the kids.”

Martin has worn many hats, including as former president of the Clinton County Firefighters Association and Clinton County Firefighter of the Year for 2011.

He is a member of the Beekmantown Volunteer Fire Department.

All three men agreed the biggest honor was not the awards themselves but that their peers and colleagues chose them as the recipients.

“It meant a lot to me,” Gonyea said.


Jennifer Cowling, a Saranac Central High School student, was awarded the title Clinton County Hometown Hero for safely stopping a runaway school bus on which she was a passenger in May 2012.

The bus was carrying about 25 students when the bus driver became impaired due to an undisclosed medical problem.

The runners up for the Hometown Hero award were Bethany Caston, Mark Dubrey, Ralph LaBombard and Joe Poissant. They worked together to rescue four horses, including a pregnant mare, from a burning barn at Miner Agricultural Institute in Chazy on April 25, 2012. 

They called 911 and helped control with blaze with extinguishers before the Chazy Volunteer Fire Department arrived.

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