Sonoma County dispatcher, fire captain and chef Guy Fieri receive ‘hero’ awards

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A firefighter who rescued a woman and her dog from a burning home, a dispatcher who helped track a suspected gun thief and a celebrity chef who fed firefighters and fire survivors during recent wildfires were among the locals honored as heroes by Congressman Mike Thompson.

Thompson, D-St. Helena, presented the 2019 Public Safety Hero of the Year awards to Santa Rosa Fire Capt. Don Ricci, Cotati dispatcher Cristina Montoya and “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives” TV show host Guy Fieri, as well as eight others from elsewhere in his district. An award ceremony was held Sunday at the USA World Classics Museum in Vallejo.

“From devastating fires to tragic incidents, our men and women have responded to countless incidents, putting their life on the line to keep us safe,” Thompson said in a statement. “That’s why I am again humbled to present my annual Public Safety Hero award to our local champions and honor the courageous service they preform day in and day out.”

He said Ricci acted heroically on Jan. 22, 2018, when he rescued a woman and her dog from their burning home. Ricci and a neighbor initially attempted to get the woman out through her bedroom window. When he realized that would not be possible, Ricci pulled off his breathing apparatus and squeezed inside. He was able to help the woman out of the window, and then saved her dog.

Ricci, who also works as a tactical paramedic for Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office helicopter Henry 1, received the 2018 Santa Rosa Firefighter of the Year for that rescue. Raised in Sonoma County, he began his career with the Santa Rosa Fire Department in 1998 as a firefighter-paramedic, Thompson said.

Thompson said Montoya’s dogged work ethic helped law enforcement officials find a man suspected of stealing a shotgun from a Cotati gun shop on Dec. 29, 2017. Hours after getting a call about the theft, Montoya searched through Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office dispatch records and discovered the suspect’s clothing and car matched that of a man deputies were investigating for a domestic assault, the Cotati Police Department said.

Montoya forwarded the information to Cotati police officers, who with the help of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, intercepted the suspect, later identified as Aaron Emerson Randall, 25.

Authorities said they found Randall with the shotgun and several rounds of ammunition.

“During the investigation, our officers determined that Randall had mental health issues and was a danger to his family. Because of your attention to detail, you well may have saved the lives of family members,” Cotati Police Chief Michael Parish said in a news release, applauding Montoya’s work.

Though Thompson typically selects a law enforcement worker and a first responder recipient from each county for the annual award, he wanted to honor Fieri for his humanitarian work feeding emergency personnel and fire survivors during the Northern California wildfires. The Santa Rosa celebrity chef is the first nonemergency employee to receive the award.

In November, Fieri made a surprise visit to Butte County, where he fed first responders battling the Camp fire, the deadliest fire in California’s history.

He also traveled to Redding in July to feed hundreds of evacuees of the Carr fire at the Shasta College campus.

Days after smoke from the 2017 Tubbs fire forced him and his wife out of their west Santa Rosa home, he cooked up his signature barbecue for fire victims and first responders.

“Fieri’s work has been exceptional and instrumental to helping our local public servants and facilitating evacuations during our community’s many recent fires,” Thompson said.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

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