Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis, Police Chief Robert Marshall and Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Dan Nelson presented a number of individuals with the President’s Volunteer Service Award.
Created in 2003, the award honors the contributions volunteers give to the community.
Awards were presented to 41 volunteers from the Community Radio Watch, the Community Emergency Response Team, Search and Rescue, and Naperville Emergency Management Agency (NEMA.)
Together the group totals 10,738 volunteer hours this year alone.
One NEMA volunteer was also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Fresh out of high school in 1971, Paul Mejia joined the Naperville Civil Defense Agency. Created in 1950, the group of volunteers prepared to respond to nuclear disasters.
“I wanted to be involved with the community in some small way,” said Mejia. “I wasn’t really ambitious about becoming a police officer or firefighter, but I wanted to do something to help and participate in some small way.”
Over the years, the Naperville Civil Defense Unit got involved with natural and man-made disasters.
Now known as Naperville Emergency Management Agency or NEMA, Mejia and the other volunteers work countless hours
with the Naperville Police and Fire Departments.
“We’re involved with manning the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) air truck,” said Mejia. “We also man two light trucks. We get called to accidents, fires, whatever the need is we’re prepared for that.”
“We rely on our volunteers at all hours of the day and night, regardless of whether it’s a holiday or a weekend,” said Puknaitis. “They’re reliable. They’re here. They love what they’re doing and we love them for doing their service to the city.”
On April 19th, Mejia’s 41½ years of service will come to an end.
“It’s not possible to serve with a volunteer organization for 41½ years unless you really enjoy doing what you’re doing and enjoy the people you’re working with and for,” said Mejia.
“Paul has seen the transition of our city and the fire department throughout time, but he has always stayed committed to his voluntary efforts throughout that transition,” said Puknaitis. “He’s dedicated, well serving in a lot of areas, always happy to provide his service with a very positive attitude, always has a smile on his face and always willing to do more with the resources that we have.”
Mejia is confident that the volunteers he’s leaving behind can continue to support the community.
“We’ve had a number of transitions over the past 41 years,” said Mejia. “There’s always improvements and always room for more. I’m confident that our 60 years history as it continues, there will be more improvement as it continues.”
“It will be a large loss,” said Nelson. “You can’t really fill those shoes and that knowledge and the rich history, but there’s still an excellent volunteer group beneath him that he helped forge and create.”
Mejia plans to move to Michigan with his wife, but says if he were to stay in Naperville, he would continue being a volunteer.
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