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Tampa uncuffed

Interest in awards banquet rises with morale

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published October 7, 2005


A lot can change in 12 months.

This time last year, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio was pushing out Aria Green as Tampa Fire Rescue's chief, amid criticism that his 15 months of leadership was bringing down morale.

Capt. Al Suarez, a former fire union president who still held political clout, pointed to the lack of interest in the department's upcoming annual awards banquet as proof that the troops weren't thriving under Green.

"They sold hardly any tickets at all," Suarez told the Times in October 2004. "It's things like that that stem from down morale."

Fast-forward to today.

Green is long gone, replaced by Dennis Jones, a firefighters union favorite with a long career in the agency.

Suarez is also gone, having been fired in February for a firehouse photo shoot that featured two strippers - and promptly doused his longtime career.

And the awards banquet? Interest is strong again. Fire Rescue spokesman Capt. Bill Wade said 600 tickets have been sold for tonight's event at Higgins Hall, 5225 N Himes Ave.

"We're ecstatic about the turnout," Wade said.

Award winners and VIP guests such as law enforcement leaders and elected officials get in for free, Wade said. But most guests paid $25 each for the evening. That includes a meal, DJ, an open bar - and a van ride home for those who enjoy themselves too much to drive.

"We don't want to have to bail our guys out," Wade quipped.

THE WINNER IS . . .: The banquet is intended to honor firefighters, law enforcement officers and citizens whose rescue efforts stood out in a year full of fires, car crashes and other life-threatening emergencies.

Here are highlights of the year's notable rescues:

Tampa police Officer Peter Bucher sustained first- and second-degree burns May 8 after he ran up to the second floor of a burning apartment building to help an elderly woman who lived inside. He drove himself to Tampa General Hospital after making sure the woman was safe.

Teenager Beyanita Pandales was about to eat lunch in her family's home, 3421 E Diana St., on April 29 when a fire broke out in the kitchen. Pandales and two others got out of the house, but Pandales ran back inside when she heard her 8-year-old sister, Alexia Beckwith, screaming inside one of the bedrooms. Alexia was unharmed. Beyanita was fortunate to escape with nothing more than singed clothes.

Paramedic Todd Alt was nowhere near the Palma Ceia fire station where he is assigned, but he put his know-how to use in June when a 45-year-old woman on his flight to New York got dangerously ill. After she nearly passed out twice, Alt used an on-air medical bag to check her blood sugar and other vital signs. He gave her an intravenous line of fluids while the pilot diverted the plane to Philadelphia. Alt stayed with the woman until the plane landed and rescue crews took her to a hospital.

Alt is one of four firefighters eligible for the Firefighter of the Year award, to be announced tonight, Wade said.

The winner gets $100, one night at the Marriott Waterside, a one-day fishing trip for up to eight friends, a trophy and a plaque, said firefighter Russell Spicola, chairman of the awards committee.

GLOSSY NOTORIETY: Debra Lafave became a Cosmo girl this month, although the circumstances are hardly glamorous.

Lafave, the 24-year-old former Greco Middle School teacher accused of having sex with a former student last summer, is featured in the October edition of Cosmopolitan.

On page 168 under the headline "Women Who Seduce Teens," Lafave is pictured on the day she turned herself in to Marion County sheriff's officials, with her blond hair pulled into a tight bun and her ice-blue eyes rimmed with smoky charcoal makeup.

The story delves into "what drives these females to commit statutory rape" and cites Lafave's case as the latest involving women accused of having sex with students.

Authorities say Lafave, 24, had sex in Marion and Hillsborough counties in June 2004 with a graduating Greco Middle eighth-grader who was 14 at the time. Lafave was newly married.

Now divorced, she is charged in Hillsborough County with two counts of lewd and lascivious battery. Her trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 5 in Hillsborough Circuit Judge Wayne S. Timmerman's courtroom.

Contact Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler at 813 226-3373 or svansickler@sptimes.com

[Last modified October 7, 2005, 01:49:15]


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