As part of our month dedicated to honoring those who stand out in shaping communities across the Western Slope, a Mesa County police officer is being recognized for his involvement in law enforcement.
"I've been at sheriff's office for 13 years. It keeps me busy, keeps me out of trouble for most part."
When Sergeant Jeff Byrne began his career at the Mesa County Sheriff's Office, he could not have pictured a more promising journey.
"Growing up, I always wanted to be in law enforcement. I always wanted to be a police officer."
That dream became reality in 1999 and he has not wasted one minute of the opportunity. "It's very rewarding and nice to get up in the morning knowing you're doing a job you love."
In a staff of dozens of people excelling at their jobs, Byrne stands out.
"We have a lot of 'Jacks of All Trades' here and that's what Jeff does," Sheriff Stan Hilkey said. He's a work horse and we wish we had more like him."
Starting off in the jail, Sgt. Byrne transferred to patrol before working his way up the ladder.
In 2006, he was recognized with the sheriff's office's highest honor: a Merit Medal given to deputies who risk their lives to save others.
In September of 2005, Byrne responded to a 911 call of a man down inside a garage. He was apparently attempting suicide by filling the room with natural gas fumes. Within seconds of assessing the situation and realizing the danger, Byrne sacrificed his own personal safety to rescue the man.
After being taken to the hospital, we're told the man was able to recover.
As a result, Byrne was also awarded for saving dozens of others in the vicinity of the house. According to reports, it was determined that the natural gas content in the air at this home was measured at 20%. If ignited, it would have produced a large explosion. A lighter was found within arm's reach of the man lying in the garage.
Today, Sgt. Byrne enjoys expanded responsibilities while blazing a trail of success. "I'm currently assigned to the Traffic Unit, School Resource Officer program, Community Policing, and I am also on the SWAT team."
He also teaches the citizens police academy and is helping train others in the sheriff's office on a new computer program.
"These kinds of people that we have here continue to give and give and give," Sheriff Hilkey said. "They put the badge and the job above themselves and as a sheriff, you can't ask for anything more than that."
That is just one of the reasons why Byrne is now being honored as a Red Cross Hero.
Tom Arthur, part of the county's Citizens on Patrol team, has watched Sgt. Byrne excel at the office and knows his dedication does not stop there.
"Tom and I have developed a really good working relationship over the year," Byrne described. "But really, we've developed a good friendship."
The pair has worked closely on the clock and off it at various community events representing the sheriff's office. Both are heavily involved in the annual Relay for Life and Toys for Tots drives.
"He is one of our biggest assets," Byrne said of Arthur. "He's definitely probably my right hand man when it comes to the volunteer group."
But ask Byrne if he should be honored and you will probably hear something like this.
"One of the most telling things that Jeff is deserving of an award like this is that he doesn't want it," Sheriff Hilkey commented. "And that's just his style. He sees what he does as what he's paid by the community to do."
Through budget cuts and recent staff reductions, Byrne has carried a positive attitude understanding that teamwork is more important now than ever.
"Everybody took on a lot more than they had," he explained. "The workload increases, but you find a way to work through and get the job done."
And like any hero, Byrne does not consider himself special even though what he does makes so much of a difference. "It's an honor to be recognized knowing the top caliber people we have here at the sheriff's office," he said. "Sometimes I can't believe I get paid to do this job.