Eash and Barna earn top state award
By Barb Pert Templeton
Having an officer named ‘Officer of the Year’ is great for any police department but having two earn the honor is a major accomplishment just ask members of the Port Huron Police Department.
The department, which currently boasts 57 sworn officers and serves some 30,000 residents in a roughly 12-square mile area, are thrilled to congratulate Sergeant Patrick Eash and Lieutenant Jason Barna for recently being named the 2021 Police Officers of the Year by the Michigan Police Officers Association.
Port Huron Police Captain Brian Kerrigan said it’s always an honor to have any members of their team recognized for their work.
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“We are all very excited and very proud of them because this in not something everyone receives,” Kerrigan said.
In this case earning the honor involved an incident back in February when Eash and Barna rescued an unconscious man from a burning building on Stone Street while working the midnight shift.
After arriving at the scene, Eash was told by a neighbor at the apartment complex that someone was till inside the building. Noting that it was his first time being involved in rescuing someone from an active house fire, Eash said he really had no hesitation as he ran to the door of the dwelling.
“There’s just that drive inside of you so you’re not really thinking of the consequences for yourself your worried about that person,” Eash said.
As for Berna, running into a burning building turned out to be deja vu as he said it’s the second time, he’s had to go into one while on patrol.
“We always respond to the fire calls too but it’s very rare to have a circumstance that involves someone being trapped inside a building,” Barna said.
The officers worked together to gain entry to the building, dragged the unconscious occupant outside amid heavy smoke and flames and proceeded to perform CPR, saving the man’s life.
Solid career choices
Eash, who has been with the department for a dozen years now, said his original career plan included pursuing a teaching degree hoping to share history and political science with future students.
It was during a car ride home down U.S. Highway 127 during a college holiday break where he saw police officers rushing to respond to a car accident that the desire to wear the badge suddenly came to him.
“The person was trapped in their car and none of the other emergency people were there yet and so the police officers were trying to help and I just thought I want to do that, I wanted to stop and help then,” Eash said, noting that’s when he realized he wanted to pursue a degree in law enforcement.
He recalls that his mother cried when she heard about his change of plans but ultimately both his parents remain very proud of his career choice. He’s remains continuously pleased with his chosen career.
“I just like all the people I get to meet and I’m just fascinated with their stories,” Eash said. “And my co-workers here are great. It’s a very professional department with great leadership and their main concern is that the staff here has the training they need to be successful.”
The recent award, following a nomination by the Port Huron Police Officers Association and his selection by the Police Officers Association of Michigan was unexpected but certainly appreciated, Eash said.
Barna has been with the department for 19 years but if his four years as a law enforcement officer in the U.S. Airforce and three years as a police officer in Detroit count, he’s been wearing a badge for 26 years now.
Barna said following his grandfather and father onto the Detroit Police Department just seemed a natural thing and he always knew that’s where his career would be. When he saw an ad seeking police officer candidates for the Port Huron Department, he quickly recalled youthful fishing trips to the St. Clair River with his father, loved the area and decided to apply.
“This was back when there would be 300 applying for the jobs with only one or two spots open but I passed the tests and got in,” Barna said.
He’s been happy with his position ever since and points out that once you’ve worked for lesser departments, you greatly appreciate being part of the Port Huron squad.
“Everything we have here is top notch, from the training to the equipment,” Barna said. “And I always tell the younger officers that they will never be treated any better than they are here.”
As to his recent award, Barna said, “It’s very humbling to say the least and to just be in a room filled with all those heroes was something.”
An excerpt from the incident report at the Michigan Police Officers Association banquet:
On February 21, 2021, a fire started in a home that was split into three apartments in the 800 block of Stone Street in Port Huron. While on a routine patrol, Port Huron Police, Sergeant Patrick Eash noticed what appeared to be smoke in the air. He began to circle the area in an attempt to find the source. He knew he was close because the smoke had become thicker, and he began to smell it.
Shortly thereafter Central Dispatch reported a possible structure fire on Stone Street. Since Sergeant Eash was just a few blocks away, he quickly proceeded to the area. Once he arrived, he saw the smoke was billowing out of the structure. The sergeant was flagged down by a man who identified himself as a tenant of the apartment. The tenant told him that he and his family were all out, but that there was a man trapped in the rear apartment.
When Sergeant Eash investigated, he found the steel entry door that led to the rear apartment and attempted to force open the door, but it would not budge as it was locked. By this time, Lieutenant Barna had arrived. After bracing himself against a car near the door Eash did a rear kick to dislodge the door and he was able to force the door off its hinges and remove it from the frame.
The instant the door opened, smoke and intense heat escaped engulfing both officers. The officer’s flashlights were barely helpful in the thick smoke, but they did slightly illuminate a tennis shoe on the kitchen floor. Sergeant Barna leaned down lower and realized the shoes were actually being worn by a man lying unconscious on his back. Sergeant Eash instantaneously crawled into the heat and smoke and was able to reach the victim’s foot and grabbed it dragging the body closer to the door. By this time, Lieutenant Barna was next to him, and he grabbed the other foot. Together, they pulled the victim out of the burning building. The unconscious man had soot around his mouth and nose and exhibited signs that he was near death. Both Officers Eash and Barna administered CPR to him, and eventually, a bag-valve-mask (BVM) had to be used before the victim began to breathe on his own again. He was then taken to the hospital, where a full recovery was expected.