Tow truck driver killed on Thruway named First Responder of the Year

Michelle Homkey, widow of Jamie Homkey, holds the First Responder of the Year award, surrounded by the Canajoharie Fire Department. (The Leader-Herald/Opal Jessica Bogdan)

FONDA — Recognizing it as a night to join together, Montgomery County first responders received recognition for their hard work Thursday night at the Winner’s Circle in Fonda.

As a small way to give thanks to those who risk danger and serve their community, County Executive Matthew Ossenfort developed the idea three years ago. Six nominees were honored this year as individuals who go above and beyond to put their service above themselves.

“Tonight is all about just taking a moment and honor first responders. Everything that has happened from the big things like the floods, we want to just thank people and give them some recognition,” Ossenfort said. “It’s starting to be a very nice tradition and something I look forward to continually.”

Ossenfort said the idea for honoring these first responders started through a conversation that recognized how, as a county, first responders deserved recognition and that over the three years that it’s been held,  more than 100 people have attended.

In special recognition, Jamie Homkey received the First Responder of the Year award posthumously.

Homkey, a tow truck driver from Canajoharie, lost his life Oct. 10 while he was responding to a disabled vehicle at mile marker 193 on the state  Thruway. While standing alongside his tow truck near the fog line, he was struck by a passing tractor-trailer.

“Jamie was the type of member that every department hopes for and exhibited great loyalty to help the community,” Ossenfort said. “This tragedy has placed an emphasis on the critically important move-over law. Where we are right now as a family, a community, we are dealing with something as simple as moving over on the highway as not in the forefront as it should be. While we attempt to try to change that, and while it’s not going to change anything that has happened in our past, it can change where we go in our future.”

Jeff Smith, emergency management coordinator, said the recognition ceremony was important because it brought all of the first responders together.

“Fire, police, EMS all together, just to be supported by the county and recognized for the hard work they do is amazing. Many times, these responders are out there doing their jobs,” Smith said. “It seems in this day and age, there is a lot of criticism. So it’s just a night of recognition and a night to get together and relax. It’s great, we are very appreciative.”

Those recognized:

∫ John Bramer Jr., Rural Grove volunteer fire department, was recognized for his 35-years of service holding different positions of responsibility for the department. He was called a role model for younger firefighters who offers his experience, encouragement and support.

∫ Philip “Curly” Brown, St. Johnsville ambulance corps, was recognized as a reliable and dependable responder who has served in the corps for more than 15 years and also serves as a member of the villages volunteer fire department.

∫ Joseph Hanifin, of the Greater Amsterdam volunteer ambulance corps since 2005, was nominated for his ability as a paramedic. Hanifin was recognized for making life-saving differences.

∫ Amsterdam Police Department’s Salvatore Megna was recognized as one of the youngest appointed officers in the department’s history. Joining when he was 20, Megna was recognized for his constant drive and willingness to assist in all aspects of the job.

∫ Brian Muehlek, of the Fort Plain volunteer fire department, was recognized for his more than 30 years of service. He has held many positions and has made a lasting impact on his department. He was also cited for his reliable work ethic.

“It’s just a night to acknowledge some people who … really deserve the recognition,” Ossenfort said. “We’ve had some good times in the last couple of years and people really appreciate it.”

Opal Jessica Bogdan covers rural Fulton County and can be reached at [email protected]

By Chad Fleck

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