Heath Stanley and Josh Watts honored with Distinguished Service Awards
City of Gastonia employees Heath Stanley and Josh Watts were honored with the Gaston County Jaycees’ 70th Annual Distinguished Service Awards. The awards, presented April 11 at the Gaston Country Club, are for community servants who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.
Josh Watts received the Outstanding Firefighter of the Year Award for his dedicated work with the Gastonia Fire Department and his off-duty volunteer work. Heath Stanley was named Outstanding Gastonia Police Officer of the Year for performing the Heimlich maneuver to save the life of a 12-year-old boy.
Stanley was on duty but on break eating lunch recently with other officers on his shift at a local restaurant when a woman started panicking and hitting her 12-year-old son on the back. The officers sprang into action to help calm the woman, and Stanley performed the Heimlich three times before the boy’s airway was cleared of food. A tragedy was avoided, and everyone returned to eating their lunch; the mother and boy’s names are not known.
Watts is constantly taking new classes, works to improve his already sharp skills, and leaves “no stone unturned” when checking the apparatus and equipment, according to the award nomination by GFD Capt. Justin White. In his off-duty time, Watts volunteers with the Gaston County Fire Explorers to ensure future county firefighters are being trained correctly. He is a role model for them, and also volunteers with the Union Road Fire Department where he serves as a lieutenant. In addition, he is an Eagle Scout and helps mentor other Boy Scouts.
“Josh Watts is one of the most dedicated and hardest working firefighters I know,” Capt. White said. “He takes extreme pride in our trade, and constantly trains to improve himself. Josh also goes above the norm to make sure that the people we serve are taken care of on calls. He is the type of firefighter that everyone wants on their truck.”
Capt. Geno Paluso, a former Navy SEAL who served on active duty as commander of the Naval Special Warfare Group 3 at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, served as keynote speaker at the Jaycees' awards ceremony. Capt. Paluso is currently the commandant of cadets at the Citadel where he graduated in 1989 with a degree in mathematics.