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Help for a good guy Town of Tonawanda police reconstruct wheelchair ramp

About half a dozen times in the past few years, Louis H. Darcy has called Town of Tonawanda police for help after falling out of his wheelchair at home.

Each time, town patrol officers go to his home in the Brighton Road-Niagara Falls Boulevard area, help him back into his chair and ask whether they can do anything else for him.

"I always say, 'No, go get the bad guys,' " the 78-year-old Darcy said.

Tuesday morning, nine members of the force went back to Darcy's home to help one of the good guys, rebuilding the badly deteriorated wheelchair ramp outside his front door.

They were all off-duty, replacing the deck on their own time.

Officer Paul Yacono, one of the ringleaders of Tuesday's rebuilding project, was called to Darcy's home recently. After noticing the badly deteriorated deck, he went to the Town of Tonawanda Police Club and asked fellow union members for some help.

"I said, 'Guys, this is what we do. We like to help out the community, and this is a man who needs help.' "

The union pitched in $250, and officials at 84 Lumber Co. agreed to sell the officers the needed lumber at a big discount. Yacono then posted a notice about Tuesday's rebuilding job, and he had little trouble finding volunteers.

"I had guys almost complaining, saying they couldn't come help because they were working," Yacono said.

Tuesday morning, the makeshift work crew included Officers Yacono, John Murphy Jr., Kevin Sweeney, Eric Schmidt and Frank Dispenza Sr.; Lt. Mike Milbrand; dispatcher Brett Rider; paramedic Mike Botham; and Chief Larry Hoffman.

Hoffman, just a month before retiring after 32 years on the job, said that Tuesday's collaborative effort was part of the Police Department's mission, to serve the community.

It takes a special person to be a police officer, Hoffman said, referring to the adversity police officers face on the job and the nasty side of people they often see.

"When we can help somebody who's an upstanding citizen who is down on his luck, that says a lot about the department and the Police Club and the officers," the chief said.

"I like helping people out," he added. "That's why I became a cop."

As the police officers wielded their saws, hammers and tape measures late Tuesday morning, Darcy sat inside his home, watching them through the front window, almost at a loss for words.

"I'm still in shock," he said, having thought that just a few officers were going to come out and replace some loose boards in the ramp.

"I'm so grateful," added Darcy, an Air Force veteran who suffered a stroke in 2002. "If it was in my power, I'd give them all a raise."

As with most volunteer jobs, the volunteers said they were getting more out of the experience than the recipient.

Dispenza brought his four young sons: Matthew, 9; Frank Jr., 6; Anthony, 5; and Christopher, 3. He's always teaching them about respect and helping others.

"This is a good opportunity to show them how it works in the real world," he explained.

Murphy talked about the benefits for police officers when their efforts are appreciated. He recently was flagged down by a jogger in Ellicott Creek Park, who thanked Murphy for everything police officers do for town residents.

It's those moments that make it worthwhile, despite all the tough parts of the job, he suggested.

"If you let the bad eat you up, you're not going to make it," Murphy said. "You have to focus on the positive. There are a lot of people out there who appreciate what we do."

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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