By Linda Quinlan
A humbled Webster Police Officer, Mark Reed, admitted that it was “a little overwhelming” as he accepted the New York State Police Officer of the Year award at a ceremony held at the Webster Recreation Center last Thursday afternoon, Sept. 5.
“I normally work the midnight shift,” Reed said, drawing a chuckle from the large crowd comprised of local dignitaries, police officials, and Webster Police Department colleagues.
A seven-year veteran of the Webster Police Department, Officer Reed was recognized for his “exceptional acts of valor” in response to the tragic Dec. 24, 2012 fire and ambush on Lake Road in Webster.
Reed was presented the award by former Rochester Police Chief and Mayor, Robert Duffy, now Lt. Governor of New York State.
“What you did that day made a huge difference,” Duffy said directly to Reed. “It had to be one of the most chaotic, horrific scenes anyone could respond to,” Duffy added. "But, Officer Reed saved lives by engaging the suspect ... He bought precious time (for first responders) ... It was a terrific act of valor, courage and service ... He saved lives, and you couldn’t ask for any higher service than that.”
Duffy added, “He defines what public service is all about.”
The emcee for the ceremony was former Monroe County District Attorney Mike Green, now executive deputy commissioner of the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services.
Green said the Governor’s Police Officer of the Year Award was created in 1983 to honor an officer, or group of officers, who exhibited an exceptional act of valor. Since 1983, the award has been presented to 102 officers from 16 agencies, Green said. A total of 69 of those past honorees, many of whom died Sept. 11, 2001, were killed in the line of duty.
Green noted that Reed is the first officer of any agency in Monroe County to receive the top award. Green, who also chairs the selection committee for the award, noted that the 19 members of the Monroe County SWAT team who responded to Webster Dec. 24, 2012, were also nominated, “but Officer Reed’s nomination clearly stood out this year.”
Duffy started his remarks with a moment of silence for West Webster firefighters Mike Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka, who were killed in the Dec. 24 ambush. Their families were present at the ceremony. Chiapperini was also a working lieutenant in the Webster Police Department and a past West Webster volunteer fire chief.
“I lost two friends that day,” said an emotional Reed, who added that not a day goes by that he doesn’t think of the events of Dec. 24.
Reed said he was driving down Webster’s Bay Road early that morning when he heard the call for a car fire, where the car was close to the house. He remembers seeing a West Webster “fly” car going by, and followed it and a West Webster firetruck into the scene.
He parked out of the way, and remembers seeing “a deer family” in the traffic lane. Then the world exploded.
“I battle with myself, wondering why I lived and they didn’t,” Reed said. “But, I thank God for the courage and strength to do what I was able to do.”
When Reed realized shots were being fired at the firefighters, he went back to his patrol car, grabbed his own rifle, and returned fire.
“He deserved this award,” said West Webster firefighter Joe Hofstetter, who attended the ceremony and was one of two who were seriously injured in the attack.
Hofstetter said he never saw Reed that day, but that he admires “his bravery, courage and professionalism.”
“I wouldn’t be standing here today without him,” added Ted Scardino, the second West Webster volunteer who was injured. “I was laying on the ground and heard the shots and knew someone (was trying to help),” Scardino said. He didn’t know what Reed had done until later.
West Webster Fire Chief James Deisenroth said he couldn’t think of a better recipient for the award.
Reed, who grew up on a dairy farm in Morrisville and worked with two other police agencies before arriving in Webster, said he was unaware he had been nominated for the award “until a short time ago.”
“This is a high honor for him, for our department, and law enforcement officers and first responders across the state,” said Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering. “Officer Reed embodies the motto, ‘service above self.’”
Pickering added that Reed, “is the most humble officer I know ... He’s a truly remarkable individual.”
Reed mentioned that his wife, Aimee, was pregnant on Dec. 24. Their beautiful daughter, Stella, was born June 9.
“I’m happy he’s with us,” said his wife after last week's ceremony. She said she received a call from a police dispatcher about 8 a.m. Dec. 24, saying her husband was involved in an incident, but was okay. She said she hadn’t realized that he wasn’t home yet.
“I’m thankful I got to see my daughter and spend more time with my family,” Reed said softly.
“I enjoy my job,” Reed said after the ceremony, “but you never know what you’re going to face."
Webster Supervisor Ron Nesbitt called the award an honor for not only Reed, but also the department and the community. He added that the town is hiring five more officers and sending them to the police academy next month. “And we’re hoping those five turn out just like Mark Reed,” Nesbitt said.