Sep 13 2023

Law Enforcement, Fire and Health Care Workers Honored at Orange County Business Council’s First Responders Dinner

IRVINE, CA (September 13, 2023) — Nearly 200 community and business leaders gathered at the 2023 First Responders Dinner hosted by Orange County Business Council on September 12th. The inaugural event in Anaheim recognized nine first responder organizations in law enforcement, fire and health care that protect and serve the businesses, residents and visitors of Orange County. Their commitment makes it possible for Orange County to be an economic leader in the state and the nation’s sixth largest county. Presenters also acknowledged the 22nd anniversary of 9-11 and the recent response to the shooting at Cook’s Corner in Trabuco Canyon.

2023 honoree organizations and their stories below:

Be Well Orange County—Samantha Cabrera, Crisis Intervention Specialist, Garden Grove HOPE Team

It was a steady evening shift, up until the police dispatcher let out the words “nine-fourteen-A,” the radio code for a suicide attempt. Samantha and her partner quickly nodded at each other, confirming the call, and leaped into action joining the Garden Grove Police Department and the Orange County Fire Authority to the scene. The dispatcher’s tone of speech indicated the urgency of the call as she emphatically read the details about the incident. Bystanders described seeing an individual in a visibly emotional state on the roof of a nearby business, making threats to jump off.

Before Samantha and the team arrived, an Officer at the scene notified dispatch that he was talking with the individual, and that they would need assistance from the fire department since the young woman was stuck approximately 30 feet off the ground. Shortly after Samantha and the team arrived, the young woman expressed how she regretted her decision to climb to the rooftop. Once the fire truck and crew arrived, they safely extracted the woman off the roof. The tense stillness that gripped the air, let up when the woman’s feet touched the pavement.

Samantha and her partner went over to speak to the woman and to create a plan to set her on the path that addressed and resolved the emotions that led her to this point in the first place. In a heightened emotional state, the young woman admitted that she wanted whatever help she could get. Samantha and her team introduced and educated her on the Crisis Stabilization Unit at Be Well OC, which she agreed to be transported to. As Samantha sat with the young woman during the ride and listened, the woman opened up about her career aspirations.

Through an exceptional display of compassion from responders and a collaborative effort between multiple agencies, this young woman received the support that allowed her to overcome her moment of hardship.


CHOC Cherese Mari Laulhere Mental Health Inpatient Center—Michael A. Ketterer, Mental Health Nurse Manager

One afternoon in March while in his office at the hospital, Michael received a call. On the other end of the line was a mental health assistant in CHOC’s Emergency Department. Sounding panicked and tearful, the caller explained that an adolescent had darted from their parents’ car and ran up to the fifth floor of the visitor parking structure.

The youth was standing on the fifth floor of the parking garage, on the other side of the fence, on a ledge. Michael, who was familiar with the adolescent’s case, remembered the patient’s high risk for suicide, and immediately ran from his office to the garage. When he arrived, there were already several staff and security officers present.

As the adolescent screamed for everyone to stand back or else they would jump, Michael quickly made contact, and was able to make his way closer to the ledge as the patient remembered their previous interactions. During this time, the City of Orange Police Department arrived and cleared the top of the structure. The teen then began shouting at police to stay back.

Michael jumped on top of the hood of a truck parked in front of the fence where the youth had crawled through to access the ledge. Though the fence prevented Michael from reaching through, he continued to speak with the youth, reminding them of their value and helping to establish a sense of hope.

After nearly an hour, the adolescent agreed to come down, and Michael reached his hand over the fence, took hold, and pulled the adolescent back through. Police rushed in and helped escort Michael and the adolescent into CHOC to get the help they needed.


Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, Newport Beach—Hennessy A. Sullivan, BSN, RN, CN, MICN, Registered Nurse of the Emergency Department, Mobile Intensive Care Nurse (MICN)

Coordinating care for multiple victims simultaneously, yet accurately, can take years of practice. For Mobile Intensive Care Nurse Hennessy Sullivan, that skill was put to the test on Thanksgiving evening of 2022. While responding to paramedic base-hospital radio calls, Hennessy received a call for a multiple casualty incident in Costa Mesa. The incident included four individuals who were involved in a shootout. The injuries sustained by the victims ranged from traumatic cardio-pulmonary arrest to a stabilized gunshot wound to the abdomen.

In the emergency department, communicating with first responders in the field, Hennessy sprang into action. Her years of emergency nursing experience guided her as she calmly assisted paramedics with a rapid assessment of the victims’ medical status. Due to her knowledge of pre-hospital treatment guidelines, she was able to relay the proper instructions. All the while, Hennessy identified which Emergency Departments in Orange County were closest to the scene of the incident, were able to handle critical trauma patients, and had beds available given the number of victims. It was crucial that she relay the correct information between paramedics in the field and the trauma center to ensure that the victims were taken to the appropriate hospitals to receive the care they needed.

Due to Hennessy’s swift actions, the victims were treated on the scene, stabilized, and transported to the appropriate hospitals in time. Through her experience, and the resources in the emergency department, Hennessy was able to work closely with paramedics in the field, ensuring that all of the patients received the lifesaving care they needed.


Kaiser Permanente—Kaiser Permanente Anaheim Emergency Response Team

Kaiser Permanente Anaheim’s Emergency Department was at capacity. Arriving for their night shift, the team of nurses and doctors were mindful of the challenging circumstances while making patient care and safety their priority. Around two in the morning, a car came to a screeching halt in front of the Emergency Department entrance. A woman came running out, yelling for help as her father was slumped over the front passenger seat, gasping for air. Immediately, the triage staff called “CODE ASSIST: NEED ROOM AND CRASH CART, STAT!” Without hesitation, Kaiser Permanente Anaheim’s Emergency Response Team went into action.

Charge nurses Kori and Chrystal quickly gathered the patient’s history from the woman who said that her father was coughing, unable to breath, and collapsed as they drove up to the emergency room. Security guard Edward rolled a gurney to the vehicle and worked with ERA’s Chase and Matt to coordinate a power lift of the now unconscious man onto the gurney. Rowena initiated chest compressions as Matt, Chase, and Kori rolled the patient towards the emergency department’s resuscitation room.

Once in the room, the team was met by nurse Kaleb who continued with chest compressions. Respiratory therapist, Adrian, arrived seconds later with ventilator equipment while emergency nurses Veberly and Chad, together with Daniel, supported with IV access to administer lifesaving medication. Emergency doctors, Dr. Carle and Dr. Ly, led the resuscitation, infusing IV fluids and medications. Though the patient remained unresponsive for a few minutes, the Code Assist Team was determined to bring him back to life. Thirteen minutes after the patient arrived, the team accomplished their goal. With a strong and steady pulse now, the team was able to do further testing. Results were indicative of a heart attack. As Code STEMI was called, Ward Clerk Lectrice and Assistant Clinical Director Megan shared findings with a team of cardiologists at another hospital.

After careful evaluation, the patient was admitted into Kaiser Permanente Anaheim’s ICU for observation. Crystal, who had been communicating with the patient’s family in their native language during this time, volunteered to be the patient’s primary nurse so that she could continue to keep the family informed. That day, Kaiser Permanente Anaheim’s Emergency Response Team demonstrated the definition of teamwork.


MemorialCare—Jeff Lung, RN, Clinical Supervisor and Disaster Preparedness Chair, Orange Coast Medical Center Emergency Department

Imagine a frightened 8-year-old boy suffering from excruciating abdominal pain, walking into a busy emergency room with his mother. Add to that, the young boy’s fear of needles. This is what happened recently to Emergency Department Clinical Supervisor Jeff Lung of MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center.

After assessing the boy’s symptoms, Jeff determined what tests would be needed to confirm a diagnosis. He learned quickly, however, that his young patient had a paralyzing fear of needles. With two boys of his own, Jeff leaned on his fatherly understanding. Amidst the chaos in the emergency room that day, he was patient, kind, and he took the time to explain, step-by-step, what the young patient would experience.

To ease the young patient’s fears, Jeff allowed the young boy to touch and see the medical equipment. As test results came in, it became clear that the patient had acute appendicitis and needed emergency surgery. The eight-year-old boy wanted to leave. His mother, also frightened, thought it would be better to wait for an appointment with the pediatrician another day, rather than having her son experience this type of medical procedure at such an early age.

After patiently explaining the medical procedure, and the benefit of seeking medical treatment immediately versus delaying it, Jeff was able to help the patient’s mom have peace of mind with her decision to seek medical treatment right away. In this case, with a young pediatric patient suffering from excruciating abdominal pain due to acute appendicitis, Jeff’s fatherly gentle approach was key to achieving the best outcome for the patient. Jeff treated the young boy and his mother as if they were family, recognizing that the psychological aspects of what patients experience are just as critical as treating their physical condition.

This type of experience is common among emergency departments. The resilience, patience, and compassion shown day-in and day-out is nothing short of heroic.


Orange County Fire Authority—Grace Romero, Fire Communications Dispatcher

In February of 2022, Fire Communications Dispatcher Grace Romero received two 9-1-1 calls for a reported gunshot wound at the same Laguna Niguel address. The second call was made by the victim’s husband, whom Grace quickly figured out was also the shooter, still armed, and barricaded inside the house. It was up to Grace to curtail the situation, get the victim—who was disabled and in a wheelchair—emergency care, and apprehend the suspect—all with a peaceful outcome.

Two important things to note. First, the average length of a 9-1-1 call is about 3 ½ minutes, however, this 9-1-1 call lasted 45 minutes. Second, when a 9-1-1 call is placed, it typically goes to the local law enforcement agency. If the incident is for a medical or fire-related event, the call is transferred to Orange County Fire Authority. Although OCFA dispatchers receive extensive training, normally law enforcement handles caller interrogation like in this type of scenario. However, Grace remaining the primary interrogator, speaks volumes about her professionalism and experience.

By keeping dialogue open with both the suspect and the victim, Dispatcher Romero was able to earn their trust, and gather the necessary details to relay to fire and police responders in the field. Dealing with an armed suspect, Dispatcher Romero accomplished the incredibly difficult task of convincing the suspect to deliver the victim outside so she could receive medical attention, while the suspect was taken into custody without incident.

Dispatcher Romero’s professionalism, communication, and actions were paramount for the positive conclusion of this incident. Fire Communications Dispatcher Romero is an astounding example of a 9-1-1 professional, taking in information, sending help, and immediately becoming a lifeline to the victim, ending in a favorable outcome.


Orange County Sheriff’s Department—Stacy M. Cole, Deputy Sheriff II

When it comes to saving a life, sometimes a courageous split-second decision can make all the difference. That is how Deputy Stacy Cole responded one night in May of 2022. A caller asked deputies to check on her 22-year-old grandson in Mission Viejo who sounded intoxicated and depressed. In this case, however, there was just one small problem—the caller did not know her grandson’s apartment number.

Dispatched to make the welfare check, Deputy Cole, along with her partners, tracked down a phone number for the man and called to determine his exact location. During the call, the man agreed to meet the deputies at his front door. When they arrived, Deputy Cole spoke with the man, showing empathy for his situation.

Then, without warning, the man pulled a revolver from his waistband, and pointed it at himself during their conversation. In a split-second, Deputy Cole immediately—and successfully—performed a gun take-away. She secured the firearm as her partners took the man into custody, later transporting him to a local hospital for a mental health evaluation.

Deputy Cole’s courageous actions are a reflection of the exemplary values held by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.


Providence—Jennifer M. Lawson, MSN, RN, CEN, CPEN, SCRN, MICN, Registered Nurse, St. Jude Medical Center

On a busy morning, nurse Jennifer Lawson arrived for her shift in the emergency department at Providence St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton. That morning, the hospital was at capacity, making wait times for patients who needed to be admitted somewhat challenging. As Jennifer began assessing her patients, one in particular stood out—a 40-year-old man waiting to be admitted for chest pain.

Despite the patient’s young age, there was reason for caution due to risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Jennifer, drawing on her years of emergency medicine as a nurse, and seeing the patient complain of chest pain, knew that the patient required further assessment. After a cardiac monitor revealed that the heart rate and rhythm showed no characteristics of a heart attack, Jennifer listened to her instincts and obtained an order for another test, an electrocardiogram. While that test was being performed, Jennifer was alerted about abnormal test results from the previous exam.

Determined to get her patient the right care, she took the initiative to share the results of the electrocardiogram with the cardiologist on call. Her instincts were confirmed by the doctor, and Jennifer saw to it that the patient was rushed to the cardiac cath lab where a 99% blockage was identified and opened.

Jennifer’s critical thinking, background in emergency medicine as a nurse, and thorough assessment skills saved this young man’s life.


UCI Health—Alliya S. Qazi, M.D., Trauma Surgeon

The morning of November 16, 2022, nearly 75 Los Angeles County Sheriff’s recruits were on a training run in Whittier. At 6:26 a.m., a wrong-way driver in an SUV plowed into the recruits, injuring more than two dozen of them.

“It looked like an airplane wreck,” then-LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a news conference across the street from UCI Medical Center, where several critically injured cadets were transported. “There were so many bodies scattered everywhere in different states of injury, it was pretty traumatic,” Sheriff Villanueva continued.

Trauma surgeon Dr. Alliya Qazi was on service that morning, coordinating the advanced trauma life support activation, triaging, and treating the injured cadets with her colleagues. According to a news report by KNBC-TV, many of the cadets who were paramedics and EMTs tended to their injured peers, acts that helped the victims once they arrived at the hospital.

Because of Dr. Qazi and UCI Health’s trauma team’s efforts, the cadets who were brought to UCI Health survived. When Sheriff Villanueva later made a visit to the hospital, he thanked Dr. Qazi and the team for saving the lives of the cadets. Dr. Qazi fully reflects UCI’s “Discover, Teach, Heal” mission locally and abroad. For instance, she was part of a team of surgeons with the International Medical Corps that traveled to Ukraine to teach courses to Ukrainian physicians and nurses.

Whether practicing medicine internationally, or in Orange County, Dr. Qazi is dedicated to UCI Medical Center’s longstanding tradition of excellence and commitment. The university is proud to have Dr. Alliya Qazi continue this tradition.


Former NBC-LA, Orange County Bureau Chief Vikki Vargas announced the honoree awards and stories.

A moment of silence during the evening recognized five first responders who lost their lives in the line of duty. They included:

  • Kenneth F. Caley Jr., Fire Apparatus Engineer, Orange County Fire Authority
  • Kirk D. Tobiassen, Firefighter, Orange County Fire Authority
  • Mike Tooley, Fire Apparatus Engineer, Orange County Fire Authority
  • Nicolas Vella, Police Officer, Huntington Beach Police Department
  • Shawki Zuabi, Emergency Physician, MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center

The evening concluded with a panel of first responder leaders who discussed critical issues impacting Orange County and how the business community can support their work. Issues discussed included:

  • Continuing a huge educational effort in Orange County and the state about the risks of fentanyl.
  • The growing threat of lithium ion batteries igniting, how smoke inhalation from these fires has prompted authorities to monitor firefighters’ health, and how fire service wants to partner with businesses and manufacturers for safer conditions.
  • How seeking help early for mental health is key, and how healthcare providers can help by streamlining the care process.

Panelists included Orange County Sheriff’s Department Sheriff Don Barnes, Orange County Fire Authority Fire Chief Brian Fennessy, and MemorialCare President and Chief Executive Officer Barry Arbuckle, PhD. Steve Churm of Churm|360 moderated the panel.

Sponsors included title sponsor UCI Health, gold sponsor Chevron, silver sponsors Automobile Club of Southern California, MemorialCare, Orange County Global Medical Center, Orange County Realtors, Providence, SoCalGas, Southern California Edison, and Vanguard University, and bronze sponsors Concordia University Irvine, Cox Business, Related Bristol and South Orange County Community College District.   

About Orange County Business Council
For over 25 years, Orange County Business Council (OCBC) has been representing and promoting the region’s business community together with government and academia to enhance the economic development of the nation’s sixth largest county. The Council’s core initiatives include advocating for adequate investment in regional and statewide infrastructure, education development that leads to a competitive workforce, advocating for a range of housing, and developing pro-business solutions that lead to sustainable economic growth. Members include businesses and local organizations representing a diverse cross section of industries including biomedical, construction, education, financial services, health care, manufacturing, municipalities, nonprofit, real estate, technology, tourism, transportation, real estate and utilities. For more information, visit

Media Contact:

Lizz Mishreki, APR

Vice President of Communications

Orange County Business Council


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