By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent November 29, 2012 3:26PM
Crown Point Firefighter of the Year Mark Baumgardner Jr. accepts the award from Shawn Pettit, Merrillville Town Council president, at the Radisson Hotel in Merrillville, Ind., on Nov. 15, 2012. | Scott M. Bort~For Sun-Times Media
The Crossroads Regional Chamber of Commerce recently recognized police officers and firefighters of the year from Merrillville and Crown Point, plus a teacher of the year, during its annual gala at the Radisson Hotel.
Those recognized received an award recognition and dinner for themselves and a guest, courtesy of various sponsors.
† Matthew Vasel, a four-year veteran of the Merrillville Police Department, was named that town’s Officer of the Year.
Police Chief Joe Petruch cited an incident in March in which Vasel and Officer Luke Shaw encountered a distraught, gun-wielding woman who was threatening to commit suicide. Petruch said the woman pointed her gun at the officers and refused to drop her weapon.
“The officers resolved the problem quickly and efficiently, without any serious injury,” Petruch said.
Vasel and Shaw received the third-highest award given by the department for extraordinary integrity and bravery, he said.
Petruch added that Vasel is the highest producer for patrol activity in 2012, including 1,046 traffic citations, 33 operating while intoxicated arrests, 177 adult arrests and 230 case reports. He also responded to 1,111 calls for service.
Honorable mentions were given to Shaw and officers Joshua Miskus, Lance Schmidt, Sean Buck and Aaron Ridgeway.
† Ryan Arroyo, a volunteer for two years, was named Merrillville Firefighter of the Year.
“Ryan’s come a long way in a short time; he’s responded to a lot of fires, well more than would be expected of him,” Merrillville Fire Chief Yerga said.
Yerga said Arroyo’s performance on the job is outstanding. He always goes above and beyond what is required and demonstrates professional behavior and appearance.
“On the job and off, he will help anyone,” Yerga said.
Arroyo, who works as a firefighter at ArcelorMittal, said he was honored to receive the award.
“I couldn’t have done this without the guys standing behind me and teaching me what I know,” he said.
† Patrolman David Wilkins was named Crown Point Police Officer of the Year.
Crown Point Police Chief Peter Land said Wilkins, a four-year veteran, routinely volunteers for extra assignments for the city and Police Department and has received countless letters of support from the community.
“He has proven himself to be a dedicated police officer and has always maintained a high level of professionalism while carrying out his duties,” Land said.
Land said Wilkins’ enforcement activity levels are always at or near the top of the duties performed by the Patrol Division. Wilkins has been vice president of the Crown Point Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 176 for three years.
† Mark Baumgardner Jr. is the Crown Point Firefighter of the Year. He is a firefighter-paramedic with the department, serves as a medic on the Lake County SWAT team, is a member of the Indiana District 1 Technical Rescue Task Force and serves on the technology committee for 911 consolidation.
An Air Force veteran, Baumgardner researches and provides guidance on communications and technology initiatives.
He also has received letters of commendation from the city for service to citizens.
† Paula Barancyk, a teacher in the Crown Point Community School Corp. for 30 years, was named Teacher of the Year.
Barancyk, who teaches social studies at the secondary level, designed the high school’s Advanced Placement world geography program, developed a dual credit U.S. history course with Indiana University Northwest in 2012, and is the lead teacher on format training, a corporation initiative.
She is a student council adviser, academic decathlon coach and serves on numerous committees.
Barancyk also was named Crown Point’s 2012 Secondary Teacher of the Year.