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Unsung Heroes event honors first responders: ‘It isn’t a career it’s a calling’

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MILWAUKEE -- Hundreds came together to honor first responders on Thursday evening, June 20. The Unsung Hero event, put on by the FBI Citizens Academy Alumni Association, recognizes firefighters, paramedics and police officers for what they do as well as unsung heroes who died in the line of duty.

"This isn't a job, it isn't a career, it's a calling so we just do it because we love it and so when we have opportunities like this," said Michael Bongiorno, union president.

Nearly 300 people filled the ballroom at the Italian Community Center for the fourth annual banquet.

Milwaukee Firefighters Union President Michael Bongiorno presented awards on behalf of the department's special teams, including the dive team for an attempted rescue.

"We don't like to get recognized for what we do but it's nice when we have events like this when we can be recognized," said Bongiorno.

The recognition and awards come at a time of mourning after Racine Police Officer John Hetland and Milwaukee Police Officer Kou Her were killed while off-duty in the last week.

Racine Police Officer John Hetland, Milwaukee Police Officer Kou Her

Racine Police Officer John Hetland, Milwaukee Police Officer Kou Her

"As we reflect on their passing, let us remember the sacrifices they made," said South Milwaukee Fire Chief Joseph Knitter.

Posthumous honors were presented for those who died within the last year including:

  • Christopher Truman, Lake Mills fire captain who was struck and killed while helping a driver off-duty

Christopher Truman

  • Charles Irvine, Milwaukee police officer who died while involved in a high-speed police pursuit
  • Michael Michalski, Milwaukee police officer shot and killed while executing search warrant for wanted suspect near 25th and Wright

Milwaukee Police Officer Charles Irvine Jr., Milwaukee Police Officer Michael Michalski

  • Matthew Rittner, Milwaukee police officer shot and killed while executing search warrant near 12th and Manitoba

Milwaukee Police Officer Matthew Rittner

  • Mitchell Lundgaard, Appleton firefighter shot and killed while responding to medical emergency at downtown transit center
Mitchell Lundgaard

Mitchell Lundgaard

"An unsung hero is defined as someone who does a great job, or achieve great things, yet receives little or no recognition for their efforts," said Knitter.

To cap off the evening, a story was told about how Appleton Firefighter Mitchell Lundgaard liked to end a shift with a room temperature Miller Lite. A toast was held in his and others' honor instead with some cold beer.

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