Monroe, Isler named firefighters of the year

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Elizabeth Cook
Salisbury Post
The atmosphere shifted from cheerful atta-boys to somber gratitude Tuesday as the Salisbury Rotary Club honored officers, paramedics and firefighters of the year.
Suddenly, it was March 7 again.
That was the day two Salisbury firefighters lost their lives while battling a huge fire at Salisbury Millwork.
Salisbury Fire Chief Bob Parnell said members of his department all submitted the same names to be considered for recognition this spring ó Justin Monroe and Victor Isler.
Parnell named Monroe and Isler as Firefighters of the Year ó not because they perished in a fire, he said, but “for the impact they made prior to that tragic day.”
With Monroe’s parents and Isler’s wife sitting in the audience, Parnell described the two firefighters’ love for their job and commitment to their profession.
“March 7 was truly the saddest day in the history of the Salisbury Fire Department, and maybe in our community,” Parnell said.
The city lost two dedicated men.
Monroe became a junior volunteer with the Miller’s Ferry Fire Department when he was 14 and “got into it bone deep,” Parnell said. “He knew he was going to make a difference in our community.”
Monroe took charge of the junior program and was “truly a leader in the making,” Parnell said. He went on to take Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s rookie firefighter class at 18 and signed up to study fire science at RCCC after graduating from high school.
Parnell said Monroe, responding to an accident on Interstate 85, saved the life of a woman whose arm was nearly ripped off. “Justin made quick work of evaluating the situation,” he said. “He saved her life by controlling her bleeding.”
On another call with a medical response crew, Monroe found himself caring for a woman about to give birth. “This 19-year-old man, who I can tell you probably never even thought about childbirth before, helped that lady have a baby.”
Though co-workers chided him back at the station, Monroe never said a word, Parnell said.
The chief presented the 2008 Firefighter of the Year plaque for the young firefighter to his parents, Lisa and Eddie Monroe.
Parnell turned his attention to Isler, who was working a hose in the burning mill with Monroe when they became trapped.
“Vic Isler was no ordinary firefighter,” Parnell said.
He had been an accomplished firefighter in Long Island and a medic with the Fire Department of New York when he decided he wanted to be a firefighter again. He was beyond the FDNY’s age limit of 39, so he moved south and attended rookie school at RCCC.
There, Parnell said, the 40-year-old Isler won the Top Gun Award for his leadership, techniques and ability. “He was destined to be a leader,” the chief said.
In the fall of 2007, Isler and fellow firefighter Capt. Rick Barkley went to an apartment where there had been reports of smoke. They forced their way in and climbed the stairs to the sleeping area ó the first step in responding to house fires, Parnell said. At the landing, they ran into significant smoke and heat, but they pushed on and found a woman on her bed. Isler carried her downstairs, handed her to waiting medics and helped treat her.
The woman survived only a month, Parnell said, but that month was very important to her family.
“Vic went from Top Gun in a rookie class to a lifesaver in a couple of months,” the chief said. Many rookies and younger firemen will model themselves after Isler, he said.
Tracy Isler accepted the 2008 Firefighter of the Year plaque for her husband. With her was young Christopher Damato, son of the Isler family friend and SFD co-worker whose presence in Salisbury drew the Islers to North Carolina, Chris Damato.
Also honored Tuesday by the Salisbury Rotary were:
– Salisbury Police Veteran Officer of the Year, Master Police Officer Joe Miller.
– Salisbury Police Rookie Officer of the Year, Officer Robert Gaither.
– Rowan County Sheriff’s Office Young Officer of the Year, Deputy Josh McHone.
– Rowan Veteran Officer of the Year, Lt. Eddie Kluttz.
– N.C. Highway Patrol Rookie Officers of the Year, troopers Jeff Deal and Matthew Heon.
– Rowan Emergency Medical Services Rookie of the Year, EMT-Paramedic Monica Evans.
– Rowan EMS Veteran of the Year, EMT-Paramedic Kevin Nail.