By Traci Chapman
Last week American Legion 353 continued one of its members’ most favorite of long-held traditions, recognizing the best and the brightest of Mustang and Canadian County emergency services personnel during a special April 11 ceremony.
This year’s honorees – firefighter Chris Edwards, Mustang police officer Kevin Connolly and Canadian County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Findley represent everything positive about the community, Post 353 Commander John Bishop said – not only have they sought out dangerous occupations that put the safety and security of others before their own welfare, they live lives that illustrate what service is all about.
“This is what we call the cream of the crop, these are the people who make our community the great place it is, the place we want it to be, and we are so very proud to be part of an effort to recognize their contributions,” the commander said.
Lt. Chris Edwards joined Mustang Fire Department in 2007, fresh from his graduation from Eastern Oklahoma County Fire Academy. In the 12 years since, Edwards has been a driving force in educating new firefighters not only in Mustang, but in other departments as well, Bishop said.
With Mustang’s growth have come challenges – and opportunities – for city departments, including MFD, last year began the process of purchasing a new ladder truck needed as Hampton Inn in 2018 became the first of expected multistory structures expected to grace the city’s landscape. Edwards was at the forefront of that procurement, chairing the committee that undertook design specifications for the truck.
“This was a daunting task that required coordinating different parts of the project and required many hours of his off-duty personnel time,” Chief Craig Carruth stated in his letter nominating Edwards for the American Legion honor. “Through his leadership the committee was able to meet every deadline – …when the city of Mustang takes delivery of this state of the art firefighting equipment, everyone will readily see the hard work and attention to detail this committee invested to improve both the fire and overall safety of the citizens of Mustang.”
Another aspect of that growth made it necessary for the department to undertake a study of its response procedures, leading Carruth and his staff to embrace an Incident Command System known as Blue Card Command Training Center. As part of that process Edwards developed a quality assurance system and monthly newsletter to help pave the way to the program’s formation, Carruth said.
“Lt. Edwards’ dedication, commitment and service to the city of Mustang and the Mustang Fire Department is highly commendable,” the chief said.
Although a relative newcomer to Mustang Police Department – joining the force in 2017 – Officer Kevin Connolly was a known law enforcement professional, Chief Rob Groseclose said. Starting with traffic enforcement, Connolly not only focused on critical high traffic areas but also pushed for more resident input in the area, suggesting the department concentrate on areas those residents were concerned about.
“His eagerness to improve traffic safety issues makes a huge impact on the safety of our motoring and pedestrian public – while his duties include issuing traffic citations, his exemplary attitude and demeanor during those contacts generally result with ‘thank you’ from the offender,” Groseclose said in his nomination letter to the American Legion. “There is mutual respect and trust.”
Connolly has always worked to help children and youth, the chief said, taking part in Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office efforts to provide Christmas gifts to young crime victims; he mentors youth as a Bishop McGuinness High School cross-country coach and works as a University of Central Oklahoma criminal justice instructor.
In Mustang, Connelly began working as a Mustang High School security officer during his off hours, a move that illustrated to Groseclose how much of an asset the officer had become, the chief said.
“Kevin made a point to get to know not only the school administrators but many members of the school’s faculty and student body – while it was important for Kevin to generate relationships with those who were teaching the students, it was his overwhelming desire to offer a positive influence on the students that truly sets him apart,” Groseclose said. “Kevin’s input into this form of community policing stands out; numerous compliments have been received, many coming directly from students.”
Deputy Chris Findley began his law enforcement career in 2002 as an Oklahoma County Sheriff’s office detention officer. The recipient of two Meritorious Service awards from Oklahoma she3riffs and Peace Officers Association and Oklahoma County Sheriff’s office, Findley also was honored with a lifesaving award from that department after performing CPR on an elderly woman for more than 30 minutes while awaiting rescue personnel.
In June 2014 Findley was hired as Canadian County Sheriff’s Department’s size and weight enforcement deputy, a position that coordinates and maintains all specialty vehicles and tools utilized by the office’s special operations team; in 2017, Findley was again honored for his efforts to save a life, this time rescuing a 2-year-old girl trapped underwater in an overturned vehicle.
“Deputy Findley was awarded the 2017 Emergency Medical Responder of the Year, an award normally given to paramedics, by the Oklahoma Medical Technicians Association and the lifesaving award from the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association for his actions,” Bishop said during the April 11 ceremony. “Deputy Chris Findley continues to serve his community with the same pass, honor and pride in his 17th year of law enforcement as he possessed his first day on the job.”
“Chris is one of those individuals who inspires people everywhere he goes and with everything he does,” Undersheriff Kevin Ward said. “It’s an honor to have someone of his caliber in our department.”