A Toronto Police officer, who risked his life to save an elderly man from a burning building, is the Police Officer of the Year.
Const. Alex Yuanidis was working the night shift in 43 Division on May 20, 2020 when he was dispatched to a fire call where people were trapped in their homes.
“I know the area because I grew up close by and was aware of the location of the home,” he said. “When I got on the scene, there were a lot of people screaming and running around, saying people were trapped at the back.”
As Yuanidis ran towards the home, a fireball exploded at the north side of the residence.
“I decided to run to the other side where I saw a woman at the back panicking,” he recalled. “I also observed two men, one elderly and the other middle-aged, on the second floor deck who couldn’t get down because there were no stairs. The older man wanted to go back inside to get his walker, so I just screamed out for a ladder that a next door neighbour provided me with.”
Scaling the ladder, Yuanidis helped the younger of the two men climb over the railing.
“He came down the stairs and I went back up the 12-foot ladder to get the elderly man who couldn’t get over the railing,” the officer said. “I punched out the spindles of the railing in order to assist the elderly man down the ladder. His mobility was very limited and he needed assistance to get down. It was just luck that I was so close by and thankfully one of the neighbours had a ladder so that he had access to get to the ladder. I had to help him down so he could get to the ground and then rush out through the back yard before we were trapped.”
Yuanidis was first on the scene of the three-alarm fire and was able to get everyone out of the burning home and evacuate residents from three homes on either side of the house on fire.
He said the Police Officer of the Year Award is an incredible honour.
“There are, however, thousands of police officers performing heroic acts daily,” said Yuanidis, who joined the Service 16 years ago. “I feel that anyone in my situation on that day would have done exactly what I did. The fact that I knew the area and was very close by worked out well in the end.”
Yuanidis parents’, Ari and Anne, attended the ceremony where he was presented with the award.
“We are very proud of him,” said his dad, Ari. “We raised him to help people in need, so we aren’t surprised by what he did to help those people last year in that burning building.”
A total of 12 officers/groups of officers were honoured with Police Excellence Awards for their bravery, humanitarianism, superior investigative work and outstanding police skills at Hotel X on Sept. 28. Of those, Yuanidis, was selected as Police Officer of the Year by a committee of community, media and business people.
Business and Civilian Excellence Awards were also presented at the 54th annual awards ceremony.
Police Chief James Ramer said the officers and civilians deserve the recognition.
“As your Chief, I want to express my immense gratitude and appreciation for your work which exemplifies the best qualities of our organization and of policing,” he said. “Whether you are in uniform or you are a civilian on your day off making a quick life-saving decision or spending years doing painstaking work, you are the reason why Toronto is one of the best and safest cities in the world.”
Ramer reminded the honourees that policing demands working respectfully and collaboratively with each other and with communities.
“Your steadfast commitment to teamwork, going that extra mile, to find solutions to the complex needs of our city, sometimes at risk to you own safety, helps to build trust and strengthen our relationship with the communities we serve,” he said.
Communications Operator Kristin McCallion was the recipient of the Civilian Excellence Award.
While on a ride-along with Sergeant Scott Kingdon in August 2019, they observed a pick-up truck travelling at a high rate of speed without lights.
The 31 Division officer activated his lights and sirens to conduct a traffic stop, but the driver failed to pull over, speeding away.
With more units called on to assist, the vehicle crashed into a retaining wall on a dead end street while trying to evade police.
The passenger exited the vehicle first and Sgt. Kingdon told him to stop, freezing the passenger. The driver then got out and ran away with Kingdon in pursuit on foot. After chasing the driver down and struggling to arrest him, Kingdon looked up to see McCallion running over.
To the officer’s surprise, she calmly informed him she had placed the passenger in the rear seat of the police vehicle and had come to see if he needed help.
She had stepped out of the scout car and spoke to the passenger in a loud voice to stay where he was. She then told the man to walk back to her voice and directed him to get into the rear of the scout car where he was secured.
It was later found the passenger had been in violation of bail conditions. The driver was charged with Impaired Driving and Failing to Stop for Police.
“The look of surprise on that sergeant’s face when I came around that corner is something I will not easily forget,” said McCallion, who joined the Service three years ago. “It was something I did instinctively. When he made the radio call, I knew back-up wasn’t close and I couldn’t just sit there and let him go off on his own.”
Maghfor Chaudry, Kim Nearing, of Parking Enforcement, and Ray Smith and Ron Josipovic, of Information Technology Services, were honored with the Business Excellence Award for the role they played in the implementation of the new Electronic Parking System that provides enhancements to improve efficiency and operations.
The new modernized solution also supports the City of Toronto Administrative Penalty System initiative to include the photo evidence as part of the parking ticket issuance process.
Photo evidence eliminating the need for Parking Enforcement Officers to attend court, which saves time and money, and one of the main benefits of the solution.
“This is a true example of innovation, team work and units working with other units to create efficiencies,” said Superintendent Paul Rinkoff, who oversees the unit. “I am extremely proud that a lot of the ideas and concepts came out of the Parking Enforcement Unit.”
Toronto Police Services Board President Jim Hart thanked the winners and nominees for going way beyond the call of duty.
“There’s great work and there’s amazing, fantastic and superior work which is what we are here to celebrate tonight,” he said. “It’s no small feat to get here. When you think about the work everybody does every day, it’s incredible to actually make it to this point. Each officer who is honoured tonight has a remarkable story. Each one demonstrates ethical conduct, professionalism, dedication and bravery to the very highest degree. Every one of these officers is a hero and indeed a role model, not only for the community, but I am sure for your families and some of the younger people who I see here. As a group, you symbolize policing at its very best.”
He also said that the work of the Service’s civilians should never be taken for granted.
“Without them, this complex organization would not function,” he pointed out. “Our civilian members aren’t always recognized the way the men and women in blue are, but I can tell you that the machine doesn’t work unless they are there to make it happen.”
Toronto Police Association President Jon Reid also praised the winners and nominees.
“Every day in your line as police officers, you do difficult and sometimes dangerous jobs in protecting our city,” he noted. “Often, we don’t express our gratitude and respect that’s deserved… Each of the recipients’ stories is a reminder that despite the challenges facing policing, our members do a remarkable job every day in protecting this great city.”