New York State
Association of Fire Chiefs

Providing Service to Those Who Serve


NYSAFC Annual Award Recipients Announced

The NYSAFC annual award recipients were acknowledged during the 115th Annual Conference & FIRE 2021 Expo General Session on July 15 in Syracuse, N.Y.

The New York State Fire Chief of the Year Awards were presented to Retired Chief Mark Strzyzynski of the Henrietta Fire District (Career Chief of the Year) and Past Chief Daniel J. Schwertfeger of the Floyd Fire Department (Volunteer Chief of the Year). Honorees are association members who have been selected for demonstration of exemplary leadership, innovation, professional development, integrity, service to the public, and contributions to the fire service, as well as outstanding support in meeting the objectives of NYSAFC.

Strzyzynski was nominated by the Career Fire Chiefs of New York State with the endorsement of the Henrietta Fire District, where he served as chief until retiring in January 2021. Throughout his career, Strzyzynski has demonstrated a commitment to his department, community, as well as state and national fire service organizations. He is described as the consummate professional with a “glass half full” mentality.  Strzyzynski played a crucial role in increasing minimum staffing in the district, improving firehouses, and developing new ways of serving the public. He is currently a board member of NYSAFC and remains committed to educating and mentoring firefighters by serving as a professor at Monroe Community College in the fire protection degree program.

Schwertfeger was nominated by the Oneida County Fire Chiefs Association, Floyd Fire District, and Floyd Fire Department. He served as chief for 35 years, retiring in 2021, and was instrumental in building a small fire department into one of the most respected agencies in Oneida County. He also served as a deputy county coordinator for many years. During his tenure as chief, Schwertfeger replaced 100 percent of his response fleet, designed and assisted in the building of a multi-million dollar addition to an aging fire station, and built a two-story maze training facility on the department's grounds. He is described as a true leader who never hesitates to get his hands dirty, serving his community in countless ways. From mentoring young firefighters to improving and expanding training opportunities to assisting with fundraising efforts, Schwertfeger's dedication to the Oneida County fire service is constant. He also served as president of NYSAFC from 2015-2016 and is currently a board member for the Believe 271 Foundation, which supports firefighters battling cancer.

Lieutenant Jessica Canary of the East Aurora Fire Department and Captain Jennie Smith of the Lancaster Fire Department were named the inaugural recipients of the Chief Neil McNeight Hands-On Training Award. This award was established by the Chautauqua County & Monroe County Fire Chiefs Hospitality Committee in memory of NYSAFC President (1991-1992) Neil McNeight, a 60-year member of the association and 64-year member of the Fredonia Fire Department. It is intended to advance firefighter training by funding the registration of deserving students in the Hands-On Training program at the NYSAFC Annual Conference & FIRE Expo. The program, open to NYSAFC members, includes training enrollment, Full Term Registration for the conference lectures and expo, hotel accommodations, and a meal stipend.

One scholarship was awarded this year through the association's Scholarship Program. 2021 marks the 40th year for the program, which was created to support NYSAFC Individual Members or the spouses and children of these members who are pursuing academic advancement at the college level. The Anthony Messina Scholarship is awarded to students pursuing an emergency services degree, while the Ward & Janice Bohner Scholarship is awarded to those pursuing a general course of study. Congratulations to Firefighter Rebecca Hawkins of the Owego Fire Department, recipient of a Bohner Scholarship. Special thanks to the Erie County Fire Chiefs Mutual Aid Organization, Fire Chiefs Council of Nassau County, and Fire Chiefs' Council of Suffolk County for their contributions to the NYSAFC scholarship fund.

The Presidential Achievement Award is presented on the recommendation of the NYSAFC president. It is intended to recognize special achievement that benefits the fire service or demonstrates outstanding effort by a first responder that goes above and beyond the normal course of duty. This year, NYSAFC recognizes seven members of the fire service for their life saving response to assist a downed firefighter who suffered a cardiac event while responding to a motor vehicle accident in Chautauqua County. Because of the quick thinking and rapid response by the firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics on scene, their colleague was resuscitated, transported to a local hospital, and made an eventual full recovery.

NYSAFC commends Assistant Chief/Paramedic Kurt Maytum (Fredonia Fire Department), Firefighter/EMT Patrick Ossman (City of Dunkirk Fire Department), 3rd Assistant Chief Adam Reisenweber (West Dunkirk Fire Department), Paramedic Mike Schwertfeger (Chautauqua County), Firefighter/EMT Tony Thomas (City of Dunkirk Fire Department), Firefighter/Medic Timothy Winters (Fredonia Fire Department), and Firefighter Jason Ziegler (West Dunkirk Fire Department) for their life saving actions.

The North East Joint Fire District of Monroe County was selected as the 2019-2020 recipient of the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs Pioneer Award, presented  by the Public Employer Risk Management Association (PERMA). The award is given for exceptional creativity and transformative approaches to address challenges and produce a positive impact on the safety and health of employees. The North East Joint Fire District was very proactive in keeping its members healthy and safe, having the highest member engagement of PERMA's 121 fire district members.