Our first community service awards for the year 2007 are what I call “slam dunks” as they are earmarked for two standouts. I speak of Capt. John Abbruzzese, a 24-year fire department veteran assigned to Engine Co. 287 and Lieutenant Robert Wilson of Ladder Co. 136, both assigned to the same firehouse in Elmhurst.

Captain Abbruzzese is the fire official who recognized a man he saw at the scene of a blaze at an Elmhurst apartment complex as having been at several other fires in the area. As a result of Abbruzzese’s sharp eyes and mind, the suspect was apprehended by fire marshals.

The suspect, a resident of a Middle Village group home, allegedly started about eighteen fires in the Maspeth/Elmhurst/Middle Village/Rego Park area. Lieutenant Robert Wilson was injured at the scene of one of the fires.

That fire was set at the garage of a home on 60th Road near 85th Street in Middle Village, and it then spread to an adjacent two-story residence. More than 60 firefighters from 12 fire companies responded to extinguish the blaze. Fire marshals on the scene noted that Lieutenant Wilson suffered numerous lacerations on his face as a result of flying glass shards after an electric meter inside the home exploded. Wilson is recovering from his injuries and is doing well.

The perpetrator was arraigned on charges of arson, assault, reckless endangerment and criminal mischief and ordered held without bail. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison. He stated that he set the blazes “just for fun.”

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said that the man believed to be the perpetrator stands accused of being a “serial firebug” whose “alleged actions had the potential of causing millions of dollars in property damage and the loss of an unknown number of lives.”

Without the professional perspicacity of Captain Abbruzzese and the additional heroics of Lieutenant Robert Wilson, the suspect would never have been apprehended.

The JPCA applauds the heroic efforts of these two firefighters. Thanks to their professionalism and experience, we are no longer living with the daily fear and danger of having a firebug in our neighborhoods. Congratulations guys, you and all our city firefighters are real heroes and role models. Thank you for your service to our communities.