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First responders honored for efforts

By CJ HADDAD - | Nov 19, 2020

Cape Coral Fire Department firefighter Matt Makar (center right) was honored as firefighter of the year as part of FOS Furniture and the Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral's annual first responder awards. He's joined by (from left) FOS Owner Pat Corlew, his son Rodney, Chamber President/CEO Donna Germain and CCFD Chief Ryan Lamb. CJ HADDAD

A beautiful and breezy Tuesday afternoon in Cape Coral saw Lee County first responders honored by a local business for the 21st consecutive year.

FOS Furniture and the Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral presented awards to the Cape Coral Police Department Officer of the Year, Lee County Sheriff’s Office Deputy of the Year and Cape Coral Fire Department Firefighter of the Year.

“With coronavirus and everything going on we’re just trying to make sure they’re not forgotten,” said FOS owner Pat Corlew. “They’re out there on the front lines every day and it’s even more dangerous than ever. These men and women put their lives on the line every day. And we as a community appreciate it.”

Normally a well-attended business after-hours event, Corlew and Chamber President/CEO Donner Germain thanked the first responders for their service to the area and bestowed them with a large plaque engraved with either the police officer or firefighter’s prayer.

Those honored for their service included CCFD’s Matt Makar, CCPD’s (and just retired) John Howes and LCSO’s Michael Swift.

Makar is involved in numerous areas of CCFD, including being a hazmat field training officer, rescue dive technician, acting engineer, credentialed paramedic and a member of the Tri-County Debriefing Team.

“It’s a great honor,” Makar said. “I was kind of taken aback and surprised when I found out. All of the men and women I work with are great and all deserve this award.”

Makar grew up with the profession, as his father was a firefighter in Fort Myers for 23 years. He said he always knew he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and was hired by CCFD in 2008.

“It’s one of the greatest jobs in the world.” Makar said.

His chief is proud of the work he puts in and the knowledge he shares with his fellow firefighters.

Lee County Sheriff's Office Deputy of the year Michael Swift (left) with Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno. PROVIDED

“Firefighter Makar is an integral part of our fire department team,” said CCFD Chief Ryan Lamb. “He serves in a variety of different capacities from helping teach new and upcoming firefighters — which is critically important as we continue to grow. We’ve got a number of individuals retiring and we want to make sure we instill that culture and experience and teach up the new firefighters, and he’s a major part of helping us accomplish that.

“We’re grateful we’re able to still do this in the face of a pandemic and are thankful to FOS and the chamber for recognizing our firefighters.”

Detective Howes, chosen as CCPD’s officer of the year, had a major role in building a case against Luis Bruno and Bruno Total Home Performance for alleged fraudulent and deceptive tactics.

According to CCPD, Howes was assigned as the sole investigator for the case in November of 2018. Howes conducted close to 100 interviews with victims and employees. Howes authored and executed three search warrants and subpoenaed numerous bank accounts and finance companies associated with this case. The investigation spanned a total of 18 months resulting in a $20 million dollar per-year criminal enterprise. The investigation led to the arrest of 10 employees of Bruno Total Home Performance.

“John recently retired and this was his last case; he was a legend,” said CCPD now-interim Chief Anthony Sizemore, who accepted the award on Howes’ behalf. “He worked major narcotics cases, he was a training officer — he worked murders, robberies, complex white collar investigations such as (Bruno Total Home Performance). He was a jack-of-all-trades and a master of all of them at the same time. He’s a tremendous loss in his retirement, but we’re very happy for him. He’s going to be missed.”

On Howes earning the honor as he hangs up his uniform said, “It’s the most-fitting. The most deserving and just a culmination of a fantastic career.”

Sizemore, who was named interim chief by City Manager Rob Hernandez on Wednesday, was appreciative of FOS and the chamber to still appreciate their impact on the community.

“We’re all making adjustments, but to be able to still recognize great police work and also be able to celebrate it with our community partners really is nice. It’s a sign of the times we’re doing it this way but it doesn’t lessen it in any way,” Sizemore said.

LCSO Deputy of the Year Swift works as a School Resource Officer whose quick actions may have prevented a tragedy.

In early September of 2019, Swift, working as an SRO at Gateway Charter High School, received information regarding a threat of violence targeting Lee County Schools according to LCSO. Swift thoroughly investigated the threat and ultimately identified the suspect. It was determined the suspect had an infatuation for the Columbine school shooting, officials said.

LCSO said Swift began monitoring the student’s every move while on school campus and was able to initiate an involuntary Baker Act. Swift also determined the student was a danger to both the staff and students at Gateway Charter High School. LCSO said Swift then relayed vital information to Youth Services Detectives, which ultimately led to a search warrant and probable cause for an arrest. At the conclusion of the investigation, the student was arrested for charges including intimidation, sending a written threat to conduct a mass shooting, and the use of a firearm in a violent manner.

“Deputy Swift is commended for his dedication to duty, persistence and quick response that ensured (the student) would not have an opportunity to harm staff and students within our schools,” said Sheriff Carmine Marceno in a statement.

Corlew is hopeful things will return to normal next year and they can honor local first responders in a more fitting fashion.

“We just didn’t want to forget them,” Corlew said. “We’ll have a big party next year.”

–Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj