San Luis Obispo, California Honors Local Fire and Police Personnel

Former Fire Chief Wolfgang Knabe returned to San Luis Obispo on Thursday to present an award named after one of his department's most beloved members.

Knabe announced the first recipient of the Greg Otto Award -- Fire Capt. Jeff Gater -- at the city's 14th Annual Public Safety Appreciation Luncheon. Meanwhile, two police officers received the agency's Medal of Honor award during the ceremony, which was full of references to the late fire captain's legacy.

Otto died March 26 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

"Greg was the best, and we wanted to do something in his honor," said Knabe, who now heads the Fullerton Fire Department. "It sort of brought closure to the process."

Gater's wife, Cindy, accepted the award for her husband, who was dispatched Thursday to help fight the 16,000-acre wildfire burning in Southern California.

An 18-year fire department veteran, Jeff Gater earned a forestry degree at Cal Poly. He is a three-time recipient of the Public Safety Committee's Distinguished Service Award.

Blanke said Gater embodies "the professionalism, the gung-ho-ness, the complete-it-to-the-very-end attitude" for which Greg Otto became known.

On Thursday, Officers Caleb Kemp and John Villanti received Medal of Honor awards for taking down an armed man, Police Chief Deborah Linden said.

On May 2, Villanti and Kemp responded to reports that a customer was menacing patrons of the former SLO Brewing Company, Linden said.

The officers struggled with the man, who had a .38-caliber revolver stuffed in the waistband of his pants, Linden said. Although the man repeatedly kicked the pair, they got the gun away from him.

"The intervention of (the officers) likely interrupted the suspect's violent intentions," Linden said.

Two fire department employees won Distinguished Service awards: administrative analyst Kathe Bishop and Fire Capt. Jody Larsen.

Knabe praised Larsen as a skilled paramedic, field training officer and member of the regional hazardous materials team. Larsen and helped raise more than $100,000 for Otto's family.

Linden selected Carolyn Goossens, an administrative assistant with the county Narcotics Task Force, as this year's recipient of the Mary Winter Award. It's named for a former city parking enforcement officer known for her enthusiasm and integrity.

On Thursday, police officers wore black bands over their badges in memory of Bill Garvey, the interim commander of the county's Narcotics Task Force.

Garvey, 56, was killed early, Saturday, Sept. 24 in a car wreck east of Ventura as he headed home to Castaic from an assignment in San Luis Obispo. A memorial service will be held today in Santa Clarita.

Distributed by the Associated Press