A Suffolk police officer, who braved flames and thick smoke to help residents of a Centereach home escape a 2019 fire, received the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services' Lifesaving Award.
Christopher Zonin, 27, who doubles as a Huntington Manor volunteer firefighter, is the first member of the Suffolk County Police Department to receive the award, which was announced by Gov. Kathy Hochul on the first day of National Police Week.
Rochester Police Department Officer Dennison "Denny" Wright, who was blinded in both eyes by an armed assailant while responding to a family dispute in October 2019, was the recipient of the Governor's Police Officer of the Year Award.
"Officers Wright and Zonin selflessly answered their call to service, putting themselves in harm's way to keep others safe and serve their communities," Hochul said. "We owe them both a huge debt of gratitude and will never forget their heroism in the face of life-threatening danger."
The awards recognize members of law enforcement for exceptional acts of valor and bravery. A total of 20 officers from across the state were considered for the awards by a committee that includes police executives, union representatives, and officials from the statewide associations that represent chiefs and sheriffs.
Zonin of Huntington Station had just begun his shift at 7 a.m. on Dec. 4, 2019, when he stopped at a convenience store to get coffee and spoke to a man he knew who discussed problems with a roommate. Zonin agreed to go to Centereach home to talk to the man's roommate.
But when he arrived, Zonin said, he saw thick smoke coming from the rear of the building and the living room was on fire.
"This was a complete mistake," he said. "I was coming there to settle a dispute between roommates. They had run out of oil and were heating their house with their oven. And something happened to cause the house to go on fire."
Zonin crawled through one apartment, enduring the smoke, heat and fire, to alert three residents of the home who were able to escape on their own. He then entered the front apartment where he found one man, who was able to flee the fire without help. Zonin then dragged an unconscious man to safety through a kitchen that was nearly engulfed in flames.
"The structure was actively failing inside and conditions were getting worse," he said. "The smoke conditions were pretty bad but the fire had been spreading. It had already taken over much of the kitchen and living room and the staircase to the second floor … It was a crazy coincidence that I had gone there for something separate and the house just happened to be on fire when I got there."
Of Zonin's efforts, Suffolk County Police acting Commissioner Stuart Cameron said: "The people of Suffolk County are fortunate to be protected by police officers like Christopher Zonin, who was willing to put his own life on the line to save others from a house fire in 2019. Officer Zonin represents the very best of law enforcement."
Four other members of Long Island police departments were nominated for the honors. Each received a Certificate of Exceptional Valor.
They included Nassau Police Department officers Michael Kenney, Brian McQuade and Adam Meyer, who responded to a scene on Feb. 13, 2019, where a construction worker was struck and trapped under a 2,500-pound metal plate, which had severed both of his legs. The three officers descended into an eight-foot-deep trench where the victim was trapped and in respiratory distress and bleeding profusely, authorities said.
The officers applied tourniquets to stabilize the victim, saving his life.
Northport Police Officer Sean Sagistano was recognized for his heroics during an April 18, 2019, dispute after an individual reported that he had been assaulted by a neighbor.
Sagistano arrived at the scene and was confronted by a man pointing a gun at him, authorities said. The officer ordered the man to drop the gun. The gunman eventually put down the weapon, but then Sagistano discovered the suspect was holding a butcher's knife in his other hand, officials said. After several commands to drop the knife, the suspect complied and was taken into custody without incident, authorities said.
Nominations for the 2020 awards are being reviewed by the committee and are scheduled to be announced later this year.