Greenwich Police Officers Fox, DiPietro commended for bravery

Marine Officer Shawn Fox and Marine Technician Frank DiPietro were all smiles last week after receiving the John A. Clarke Award for their heroism in the line of duty. —John Ferris Robben

Marine Officer Shawn Fox and Marine Technician Frank DiPietro were all smiles last week after receiving the John A. Clarke Award for their heroism in the line of duty. —John Ferris Robben

It was just another typical Thursday for Greenwich Police Department Marine Officer Shawn Fox and Marine Technician Frank DiPietro as they went about their day.

Officer Fox was told to head off to the Hyatt Regency in Old Greenwich with some department AV equipment that was supposedly needed for an accounting seminar being given there that day. As for Technician DiPietro it was his wife who convinced him he needed to come to the hotel for a luncheon without stating the twist to her tale. So both veteran officers said they had no idea when they arrived and found they were actually the guests of honor and recipients of the 2014 John A. Clarke award for their service to the community as police officers.

The award stemmed from their work on July 22, 2013. It was a Friday night and with good weather and fireworks coming from nearby Rye Playland it was a busy night in the water. Officer Fox and Technician DiPietro responded to a distress call about an unmanned cigarette-type boat traveling at a high rate of speed in waters off Stamford. The two people in the boat had been thrown from it and successfully rescued, but now the boat itself had to be stopped.

Several marine agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, responded, but initial attempts to stop the boat with lines to disable the engine failed. That meant decisive action had to be taken to avoid a damaging collision with any other boats in the area. Officer Fox had to accelerate the town vessel he was driving to bring it up along side the out-of-control boat so Technician DiPietro could leap aboard and take over the steering while slowing it to a safe speed, a plan that was initially considered too dangerous because of the boat’s speed and erratic motions.

“Based on their quick action and heroic attempts, they were successful in boarding the vessel and bringing it to a stop without any loss of life or property damage,” Chief of Police James Heavey said. “It’s because of their courage, their dedication to duty and this display of extraordinary skill that they are awarded the John Clarke Award.”

Technician DiPietro said the fact that the boat had a full tank of gas was a major issue since it could have kept running without any control. He recalled witnessing several near collisions in the water with other vessels, including the new town public safety vessel they were in, and described the uncontrolled movement of the boat as being similar to a whale breaching out of the water because of how it would launch itself up out of the water and then land with a huge splash. Officer Fox compared the efforts to get control of the boat to being in a rodeo.

Chief Heavey said that keeping word from leaking out remains the most challenging part of the whole process. The entire aim is to have it be a surprise to the honored officer (or officers) and as such neither Officer Fox nor Technician DiPietro was dressed for the luncheon, adding to the fun atmosphere … at least among their loved ones and colleagues. Keeping the secret was especially difficult given how many friends and family members were set to attend. There were reportedly 19 members of the Fox family there as well as a healthy number of DiPietros.

Chief Heavey said, though, that it was worth all the work to keep word from getting out to see the looks on their faces when they arrived and found out the truth.

“This is such a prestigious award because of the people you’re associated with,” Technician DiPietro said. “There’s a lot of pride when you receive this.”

“This is a long time coming,” Officer Fox said, adding that this was an honor not just for the two of them but for the entire GPD Marine Division. “We’ve been working very hard to be this unit. For the last 10 years we’ve had the support of the town and the support of the administration and the town fathers. That money has gone into our equipment and training and that’s responsible for our success.”

Chief Heavey agreed completely, citing the hundreds of hours of training each officer in the division goes through.

“This shows how important our Marine Division is,” Chief Heavey said. “We have more than 13.5 miles of coastland here, not counting islands; we have a lot of commercial and recreational boaters in our waters. Plus our marine officers can respond to multiple jurisdictions. We can back up New York and Stamford. And this was when our new public safety vessel earned its stripes too.”

Technician DiPietro said the new vessel, purchased through a Department of Homeland Security grant, made a “huge difference” because the power of the motors allowed them to keep up with the runaway boat and for him ultimately to get on board it and safely secure control of it.

The John A. Clarke Award is presented yearly by the Greenwich Lions Club and was named after the club’s first president, a Greenwich doctor who served as medical adviser for the police department. After Dr. Clarke’s death in 1944, the club wanted to pay tribute to his commitment to the community and the police so the award was created to honor heroic and notable police officers in Greenwich for their “outstanding service.”

Chief Heavey is the one who made the call to honor these officers and he admitted that every year it is a difficult choice to make.

“There are so many officers who do things we’re proud of, but in this particular case it was clear,” Chief Heavey said. “We asked for input from all the captains and lieutenants and there were several recommendations right away, but in the back of my mind this was always there as really the highlight case for the year. They used their training and experience and all their tools to prevent a tragedy. And that’s another thing that’s really nice about this. It’s nice to be recognized for preventing a tragedy. Everyone survived this and no one got hurt. That’s the best possible outcome.”

Lions president David Moore said, “In my opinion this event epitomizes what is best about our society. The efforts of law enforcement keep our corner of the world a stable place and it allows for people like us in the Lions Club to serve those in town and Fairfield County and all over the world.”

Griff Harris, a third generation Lion, said that the event is one that both the Greenwich and Old Greenwich Lions clubs look forward to every year because of the “feel good, small town event” chord it strikes.

“I think we speak for the community when, at this small luncheon, we say thank you to all Greenwich police officers who commit so much of their lives and, in some cases, take significant amounts of time away from their own families to watch guard and take care of our community,” Mr. Harris said.

And it wasn’t just club members and police officers who were in attendance. First Selectman Peter Tesei and Selectman David Theis were there as were State Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-36th) and State Reps. Livvy Floren (R-149th), Stephen Walko (R-150th) and Fred Camillo (R-151st), who presented Officer Fox and Technician DiPietro with a citation from the state for their heroism.

“As we all know, public health, public education and public safety are the holy trinity of good government,” Ms. Floren told the honorees, “and you two gentlemen represent good government.”

Mr. Tesei later added that it was one of the greatest privileges of his job to work with the GPD.

“These are the most well qualified, trained individuals in the country in the way of law enforcement,” Mr. Tesei said. “To see Shawn and Frank recognized for courage in the line of duty is well deserved and it’s a reinforcement of the exemplary service we get from the men and women of the GPD.”

 

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