ITHACA, N.Y. — Ithaca firefighters were honored this week for their continuous service to the community.

Typically the Frank G. Hammer Officer of the Month Award goes to police officers in the community, but this month the Kiwanis Club of Ithaca Cayuga wanted to honor another group of men and women who work to protect the community every day.

At the luncheon Monday, Assistant Chief Gillian Haines-Sharp and Lt. Tom Basher were there representing the Ithaca Fire Department to accept the award.

Haines-Sharp said it is appropriate the award is going to the full fire department. She said has worked at the department for more than 30 years and said she has seen a lot of changes, in equipment, health and number of calls, but something that has never changed is the need to have a good team.

“One of the biggest things about emergency services in general — police departments, the ambulance workers, the fire department, is that we really have to be a team. You don’t go out on a call and bring it to a successful conclusion unless you have a good team,” Haines-Sharp said.

Ithaca firefighters have to train to respond to many situations, from medical emergencies to car accidents to performing water and rope rescues in Ithaca’s gorges.

“So there’s a lot to know, but it keeps the job really, really interesting,” Haines-Sharp said.

Deputy District Attorney Andrew Bonavia said firefighters and first responders make a real difference in people’s lives and are often the difference between whether someone will live or not.

Bonavia recalled a case in which a young man was dying on a lawn at Cornell University and another person was injured. He said he remembers seeing Basher on body camera footage at the scene.

“It’s a very moving, agonizing 10 to 15 minutes to watch the first responders treat one person who was actually ultimately going to die and another person who was going to live. And I think about how professional the Ithaca Fire Department was, obviously all the police officers that were there as well, how calm and collected they are,” Bonavia said.

Bonavia said he appreciates how much of a difference firefighers and first responders make.

“I’m proud to be a part of this community knowing that if I ever needed that, you would come to my aid as well,” Bonavia said.

Though the award typically honors the work of local members of law enforcement, there is precedent for firefighters being honored with Officer of the Month award, Mimi Melegrito, president of the Kiwanis Club of Ithaca Cayuga said, though it has been a long time. She said they were honored with the award in 1990 or 1991.

Related: Officer of the Month: Cornell Sgt. recognized for saving drowning teen

Basher, who has worked at the department for 19 years, said firefighters work hard behind the scenes in the community to prevent fires.

“The women and men of the Ithaca Fire Department are often unheard of because we are behind the scenes, you don’t see us all the time, and it’s because there aren’t that many fires anymore,” Basher said. “They still happen and we still have to go them, but the reality is when they do happen, they’re small, we get there quick, we are well trained, we have really great people and we make little fires stay little so that you don’t see them become big fires.”

Ithaca Fire Chief Tom Parson could not attend Monday but in a news release thanked the Kiwanis Club for the recognition.

“I am very proud of the service that our Firefighters and Officers provide the Ithaca Community everyday. It is a great honor for our team to receive this recognition,” Parsons said.

The Ithaca Fire Department said it is “humbled and thankful for this honor and award from a great community supporter like Kiwanis Club.”

Featured image: From left, Asst. Chief Gillian Haines-Sharp, Deputy District Attorney Andrew Bonavia, Kiwanis President Mimi Melegrito and Lt. Tom Basher. Provided by Ithaca Fire Department.

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.