Pacific Beach Town Council honors local emergency services members with 40th PAESAN awards

Police Sgt. David “Bryan” Brecht, lifeguard Thomas Valente, park ranger Araceli Dominguez and fire Capt. Jared Cheselske
Winners of the 2020 Police and Emergency Services Appreciation Night, or PAESAN, awards in Pacific Beach are (from left) police Sgt. David “Bryan” Brecht, lifeguard Thomas Valente, park ranger Araceli Dominguez and fire Capt. Jared Cheselske.
(Courtesy photos)

Denied its customary outlet at Crown Point Park in September because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 40th annual Police and Emergency Services Appreciation Night, or PAESAN, celebrating local emergency services personnel was held online during the Pacific Beach Town Council’s November meeting.

An employee from each of the four city of San Diego emergency services serving Pacific Beach — police, fire, lifeguards and Mission Bay park rangers — was recognized for outstanding performance the past year as officials listed the achievements of each award winner.

While the challenges presented this year by the pandemic pervaded every speech, the presenters noted the reassuring stability rooted in the Town Council and its award ceremony.

Speaking for the Police Department, Capt. Matt Novak expressed sentiments echoed by all the departments honored during the evening when he said: “You guys have always been supportive throughout the years. I can’t tell you how much, this particular year, your support has meant to our officers. It’s been a rough year for everybody. ... Thank you for always being a big supporter. We always know that you have our back.”

Though the meeting was virtual, the mood was festive as Town Council President Brian White asked the members of the audience to unmute their microphones so the applause and cheers could be heard when each PAESAN winner was announced and shown his or her commemorative plaque.

First up was police Sgt. David “Bryan” Brecht, who was honored for his work heading the day beach team.

Originally splitting his time between the Northern Division beach team during the summer and the Neighborhood Policing Division the remainder of the year, Brecht was “stolen” from the latter to lead a permanent beach team, according to Novak.

“I’d just like to say that Bryan really stepped up for us this summer,” the captain said. “Bryan was our ‘go-to’ sergeant. ... All the multiple issues that came during the summer — from the drinking to the parties to the COVID shutdown to the COVID reopening of the beaches, the boardwalk, the bars and all the associated issues — Bryan was on top of each and every one of those.”

Every year, the Town Council highlights one of the four emergency services and raises money to provide equipment unavailable in the agency’s budget. With 2020 designated the year of the police, the Northern Division received 10 helmet intercom units for its beach team, a refrigerator, office chairs and gym equipment valued at $6,000, according to White.

Lifeguards will be the featured service in 2021. This year’s PAESAN lifeguard award went to Thomas Valente for his role as operations leader during three large paddle-outs over the summer, including a massive Black Lives Matter paddle-out in June in honor of George Floyd that drew more than 800 people.

“This year has been a tough year for everybody,” said lifeguard Sgt. Charles Knight. “However, this individual has just gone above and beyond with hard work and enthusiasm. Most importantly, Thomas Valente has really led up the chain of command. This person has so much hard-work ethic and enthusiasm that it’s contagious among the team at PB and north PB.”

Andrew Field, San Diego parks and recreation director, described the paradox of Mission Bay park rangers, who are hired to welcome visitors, having to turn them away during park closures in the spring. But he noted the high level of customer service provided even then by Araceli Dominguez, this year’s ranger PAESAN winner.

“Araceli was there working to make sure that these closures happened and handled with the grace and the professionalism that really spoke to her ability to help people understand not just the fact that the park was closed, but also why it was closed” Field said. “She is a role model for all up-and-coming rangers.”

The firefighter PAESAN winner, Capt. Jared Cheselske, an Army veteran, was not present to accept his award. But Fire-Rescue Department presenters said his absence was part of the reason he received it — Cheselske was attending a retreat to help combat veterans who are coping with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Capt. Stanley Sgambelluri noted Cheselske’s work in peer support within the department and against substance abuse for a foundation in Hawaii.

“He’s not only on the job and on the firetrucks but he’s behind the scenes working hard to make sure that others get the help and services they need,” Sgambelluri said. “That transcends him into the community and the public as well.”

Ellen Citrano added emotional impact to the award when she read a letter by her husband describing Cheselske’s efforts to save Citrano’s life when she stopped breathing this summer because of excess medication following a medical procedure.

“He is so one-of-a-kind to us because of this heroic lifesaving measure he performed on my wife,” Citrano read. “I’m willing to bet that he does this pretty much every day that he’s on duty.”

The PAESAN recipients referred to the team effort required to get the job done. Valente exemplified the winners’ reactions, saying, “This award represents not only the hard work of the lifeguards but all first responders during the especially difficult time this past summer.”