NILES, Ohio (WKBN) – The first ceremony honoring first responders in Niles took place Friday.
A bugle playing taps and a gun salute could be heard outside the Niles Safety Service Complex as the ceremony got underway.
“The national narrative on policing sometimes is a negative one. It helps us go out there and do our job every day to know we have good citizens that still support us,” said Niles Police Chief Jay Holland.
The service was also a tribute to those who never made it home from the job. Niles Fire Captains Alvin McGowan and Melvin Reinhart died in the line of duty in 1960 and 1968, and Niles Police Officer John Utlak was murdered on the job in December of 1982.
“As veterans, we know who our enemies. Anytime a police officer or firefighter has to be called out or stop a car, they don’t know what they’re walking into,” said DAV Sergeant of Arms Robert Marino.
Vienna Police Chief Bob Ludt was Utlak’s partner and friend.
“Being taken that day was shocking and will never be forgotten,” he said.
Utlak’s sister Joanne Robbins said her brother can never be replaced, but honoring his life and service helps.
“I miss him every single day, but this does help. It really does to know that what he did was not in vain and that he’s always going to be remembered,” she said.
This was the first service honoring emergency responders in Niles. Marino came up with the idea for the ceremony and hopes it becomes an annual tradition.
“I want this to keep going and getting better,” Marino said.
The ceremony was also made possible with help from both the police and fire chiefs, the mayor, and members of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV).