Cumberland Police Officer Kirk Mazuzan, left, and Fire Capt. Scott Morgan both received “Heroes with Heart” awards through Maine Behavioral Healthcare’s Trauma Intervention Program. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

CUMBERLAND — Scott Morgan and Kirk Mazuzan were in the right place at the roughest of times.

Mazuzan, a Cumberland police officer and school resource officer at Greely High School, and Morgan, a captain with the town’s fire-rescue department, were responders last year in separate crises for two families. The care they lent to those undergoing intense grief earned them both the 2020 “Heroes with Heart” award from the Trauma Intervention Program. The initiative through Maine Behavioral Healthcare trains volunteers in the Portland area to provide support to survivors immediately following a traumatic incident.

Program volunteers provide a cool head for people in crisis, helping them call other family members or simply to sit with them. They are “just there in the moment as a fellow human, to listen, to help,” Police Chief Chip Rumsey said. “They’re very valuable to us.”

Volunteers and department leaders, noticing those public safety officers and hospital staff who’ve gone above and beyond their normal duties to help, nominate them for the “Heroes with Heart” distinction. Maine Behavioral Healthcare normally honors that slate of people at a “Celebration of Our Everyday Heroes” event each year, but given the coronavirus pandemic the awards have instead been presented at individual departments, said program manager Leslie Skillin.

Morgan, a Cumberland firefighter for more than 30 years, had been called to Skillins Greenhouses on Gray Road, where a man had a heart attack and died unexpectedly, and his wife needed help. The Trauma Intervention Program was alerted as well, given those circumstances, but in the time before that volunteer could arrive Morgan offered the grieving widow the emotional support she needed in the wake of sudden tragedy.

As more emergency responders arrived at the whirlwind scene to treat the man, Morgan was able to cater to the wife and moved her to a less public location. Since it would normally be the fire chief or deputy chief who shouldered that responsibility, it was new territory for him. Still, he embraced that role.

“I just kept providing that support, letting her know what we’re doing; obviously she was very emotional,” Morgan said. “… We got a hold of her son, so that kind of helped get her mind off more of what (was) going on there.”

“Capt. Morgan remained on the scene for over two hours to be sure this family was cared for, knowing that they needed kindness and care,” Skillin said, “and those are the actions of a true hero with a heart.”

Mazuzan’s situation involved a Greely High student who had returned home to find her father had died, an understandably agonizing situation for her and her mother. Mazuzan, who has spent 10 of his 12 years in law enforcement in Cumberland, was working at the school when he heard the call.

“We had police responding there, (but) as the school resource officer I felt like it was important that I be there to support the student and the family,” he said.

Public safety officers, “get the calls, and we go to the calls, and we want to help, and we want to solve the problem,” Mazuzan explained. But “I think sometimes the most we can do is just be there, and just be present with someone in the worst of the worst. I hope that was a big comfort for the student and her family, to just have me there, sitting with them in their worst moments, and know that there was someone who cared, and could listen to them, and grieve with them.”

Mazuzan also acted as liaison with the teenager’s school and athletic contacts, “to minimize the impact that this traumatic experience is going to have on the student, so they don’t get re-traumatized when they enter into school the next day.”

Both men “tried to do what they could to care for the person as if that person were their sister or daughter or mother, and ‘what would I want for one of my loved ones if they were in this really horrible situation,'” Rumsey said. “That empathy drives a lot about what we do every day. That doesn’t take a lot of training, sometimes, to be a human being.”

Such situations reinforce why school resource officers are important, Rumsey said. In the wake of the outrage sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, and the resultant increased scrutiny across the U.S. of police department funding, the Portland Board of Education ended its contract for school resource officers last week.

“Kirk’s actions that day were a natural extension of what his duties are at the school, and that is to see an opportunity to positively impact a situation, to improve the health, safety and quality of life” of a student, Rumsey said.

Part of Mazuzan’s job is be a resource to students who don’t necessarily flourish in a school environment, and to ease their anxieties – a form of support that may be particularly important when students return to school after several months away, Rumsey noted.

Mazuzan said he focuses his work on restorative justice, and “the goal isn’t to introduce kids to the (court) system, but work towards acknowledging mistakes students may have made, and work collaboratively as a school (and) police department to overcome that, learn from it, and grow and be successful students and citizens.”

Comments are not available on this story.