Pacific Beach first responders honored at annual PAESAN picnic
The 41st annual PAESAN (Police And Emergency Services Appreciation Night) picnic returned to Crown Point Park on Sept. 22 with more than 200 people in attendance.
Hosted by the Pacific Beach Town Council, PAESAN honors the four public safety departments serving PB: police, fire, lifeguards and the park rangers of Mission Bay Park. Awards are presented to individual officers chosen by their department heads for superior service during the past year. The event was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Every year, the PBTC targets one of the four agencies on a rotating basis for fundraising to purchase equipment and other items needed by the department but not funded in their budget. This time around, it was the “Year of the Lifeguards.”
Having cancelled their internal Hardy Awards for outstanding service for the second year in a row because of COVID-19, the lifeguards seized the opportunity offered by the outdoor PAESAN event to combine the two ceremonies and announce their winners.
In a nice twist, Dana Vanos, president of the San Diego Lifesaving Association, presented the lifeguard’s Citizen of the Year award to PBTC treasurer Denise Friedman for her advocacy and organizing efforts to benefit the lifeguards. Friedman serves as co-chair for PAESAN along with Cathie Jolley.
“I enjoy just doing things and helping people without expecting anything back and to get something back like that, to me, was really humbling,” Friedman said. “This was extremely touching to me because I’m used to saying thank you, not hearing thank you.”
The PBTC raised approximately $12,000 this year for the lifeguards, with potentially more to come once all receipts are tallied, according to Friedman. The lifeguards are in the process of drawing up their “wish list” of needs.
Honored by the PBTC for their “exceptional” work serving Pacific Beach this year were Det. Julie Adams from the Police Department’s Northern Division; park ranger Iggy Sorenseene from Mission Bay Park; firefighter Ivan Kargbo from Fire Station 21; and lifeguard Alison Knight from the PB Lifeguard Station.
The winners were presented with plaques by their citywide department heads: Chief of Police David Nisleit, San Diego Parks and Recreation Director Andy Fields, Fire-Rescue Chief Colin Stowell and San Diego Lifeguard Chief James Gartland.
Recognized for his contributions despite starting his job as park ranger at the onset of the pandemic, Sorenseene acknowledged the team effort required for any success.
“It’s everybody, from the guy that picks up your trash to ourselves to everybody downtown doing our payroll,” he said after the ceremony. “Everybody is a contributing member. Everybody tries very hard. Everybody comes to work every day and half of that is just the dedication.”
Adams said she valued the community’s tribute to her as well. She told PB Monthly that police don’t improve their performance with accolades because as professionals, they bring their best to work every day. However, the recognition impacts them in other ways.
“It’s not that it doesn’t do anything,” Adams said. “It’s just when the bad times come, you reflect on this day when you are recognized and appreciated. It just makes (tough times) better.”
Lifeguard Sgt. Daniel Orloff said that PAESAN and other types of support for his service are a reflection of the community’s loyalty.
“I try to remind my crew on a regular basis, especially the PB crew, that there are people that come to this beach every day, that have been coming to this beach a lot longer than most of us,” Orloff said. “So it’s important for all of us to keep that in mind every time we show up to work; that we’re here to serve the community that supports us and the community that has been here a really long time.”
With more than 300 lifeguards protecting the millions of visitors to the city’s beaches every year, Chief Gartland noted the special appeal that comes with serving Pacific Beach.
“PB has a huge local element to it,” he said. “It is a bigger town with lots of people coming and going, but there is a really nice local feel to it. The locals here really care about their beaches and care about their town. Although it’s a big beach town, it’s a got a small town feel. Events like this show us that.”
As an outsider looking in, visiting paramedic and firefighter Russell Castillo of Fire Station 26 in Oak Park agreed with that sentiment, noting that the community distinguishes itself when it honors the people serving it.
“To see the community come together like this is a prime example of why there’s only one Pacific Beach in the U.S. , let alone San Diego,” Castillo said. “This doesn’t happen everywhere. This happens here. It’s a great example of not only the people that you have in the community but the fire station and the public servants you have in the community serving PB.”
Having attended all 41 PAESAN events since its inception, PBTC member Eve Anderson commented on the highlight of this year’s event.
“It is so wonderful to see everybody,” Anderson said. “To see them live, not at a Zoom meeting. There’s nothing like it. I saw people hugging and shaking hands and just getting together. You get a lot of stuff done when you can see people in person that you can never do on Zoom. It just doesn’t happen.”
Northern Division commander police Capt. Scott Wahl said that having a ceremony like PAESAN honoring his department and other first responders as the city slowly returns to its usual pace of life only adds to the event’s significance.
“It does make it that much more special,” Wahl said. “Everyone wants to get back to a normal life...To see this many people come out to say thank you for what you do at a time like this is even more rewarding.”
Castillo said that there was nothing normal about it, yet argued that the event was incredibly human.
“Whether you’re a child, whether you’re a schoolteacher, a firefighter, a police officer, a community member; what people ultimately want to know is that (they) matter,” he said. “One of the things that really motivate us being invited to these types of events is seeing the incredible generosity. It’s just a kind of head nod from the across the room of ‘you matter.’ When we get that kind of support and we get that feeling, that connotation of ‘you matter’ is just a confirmation that we’re doing the right thing.”