Old East Village explosion: Local heroes recognized in virtual awards ceremony

A memorial is set up outside the site of 450 Woodman Ave. about two months after a 2019 car crash led to a house-levelling explosion. Andrew Graham / Global News

The pride of London, Ont., was on full display Thursday as the city’s police service recognized those who rose to the occasion during a horrific night in Old East Village.

The Woodman Ave. Awards and Recognition Ceremony was held virtually and opened with a reflection on the Old East Village explosion.

It was on Aug. 14, 2019 when a vehicle driving the wrong way on Queens Avenue slammed into a home at 450 Woodman Ave., according to an agreed statement of facts read in court proceedings related to the blast.

In the crash, the car had struck a gas line, triggering a blast that completely levelled 450 Woodman Ave., and left neighbouring homes so badly damaged they had to be later demolished.

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Falling debris led to fires in several homes nearby and the entire neighbourhood had to be evacuated with gas and hydro shut off to the area.

Two police officers and two firefighters suffered numerous injuries as a result, with one firefighter forced to spend more than a week in hospital before being discharged.

First responders attend to the aftermath of an explosion on Woodman Avenue in 2019. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

“In the face of unknown danger and amidst the chaos that comes from unexpected tragedy, heroes emerged,” Chief Steve Williams said Thursday in a ceremony that recognized first responders and citizens alike.

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“We know that the quick action of all of those involved saved lives.”

During Thursday’s ceremony, six police officers were awarded the Certificate of Valour, an honour that is awarded by the chief of police “for an act of exceptional bravery in the face of great danger and risk to personal life.”

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Recipients included Sgt. William Tennant, Const. Waseem Deep, Const. Dylan MacRae, Const. Riley Morrow, Const. Jordan Richardson and Const. Jordan Thomas.

All of the officers awarded were among the first who arrived on the scene. Const. Deep was credited with having assisted in removing the driver from the vehicle that crashed into 450 Woodman Ave.

During Thursday’s ceremony, six police officers were awarded the Certificate of Valour. London Police Service / Twitter

Citations of the Chief of Police were awarded to eight members of the police service. These citations may be awarded for “outstanding service displaying extreme perseverance and dedication in a task well done.”

Recipients included the now-retired Sgt. Derek Spence, Jennifer Carrothers, Mathew Drake, Arlene Fuller, Tracy Schade, Sarah Schwindt, Tawnie Sim and Jamie Spencer.

These recipients were credited with outstanding efforts and collected composure on the communications front. Williams noted that more than 90 calls were placed to 911 within eight minutes of the explosion.

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The chief added that the communications centre was led by Sgt. Spence during the incident.

Eight members of the London Police Service were honoured with Citations of the Chief of Police during Thursday’s ceremony. London Police Service / Twitter

Honours were also bestowed on citizens, who received Board Citations from the London Police Services Board (LPSB).

The citations were presented by LPSB chair Dr. Javeed Suhkera and were awarded “in recognition of assistance rendered to the London Police Service, for acting on an emergent and dangerous situation and for being instrumental in reducing devastation and loss of life in the Woodman Ave explosion.”

The recipients included Brian Bertelsen, Theo Christoff, Laura Earle, Andrea Ladd, Eric Merkel, Chris Patterson, Michael Peckham and Mario Jaime Ramirez.

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These citizens sprang into action without hesitation, all of them doing so while aware of the danger around them. They also helped in removing the driver from the vehicle that crashed into the home at the centre of the blast.

The citizens recognized during Thursday’s ceremony were credited with being instrumental in saving lives and reducing devastation. London Police Service / Twitter

Citations were also presented by Sukhera to the Middlesex-London Paramedic Service and the London Fire Department for their life-saving actions.

“I have to say on behalf of London city council and from my heart, thanks for your service,” said Mayor Ed Holder in a message of gratitude to all first responders.

“Not only on that day, but on all days, you are so amazing and what I do know is you care deeply. You make London proud.”

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