By Tamas Mondovics

For the past two decades, Bay area communities have been coming to honor and thank the men and women of law enforcement and fire rescue in Hillsborough County at the annual Our Heroes Luncheon. This year 17 recipients were honored for their everyday acts of courage, valor, fearlessness and selflessness that provide safety and security for members of the community.

Held last month at the Tampa Convention Center, the event was presented by Sykes Enterprises, Incorporated (SYKES) and was hosted by John Thomas of ABC Action News and Mason Dixon of Q105. The ceremony brought together hundreds of first responders from Hillsborough County, Tampa, Temple Terrace, Plant City as well as from the Florida Highway Patrol and USF Police Department. During his opening words, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn put things in perspective as he addressed the large crowd.

 “We are here to honor you and to thank you for what you do and the courage that you all have. You help us, protect us, serve us and save us, each and every day. For being stronger, faster and more courageous than most; for giving yourselves for the sake of strangers,” Buckhorn said.

This year’s heroes included Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Phillip Merkle who was awarded Law Enforcement Deputy of the Year. Merkle has been with the Sheriff’s Office since 2003 and is assigned to patrol District IV in Hillsborough County. Merkle’s recognition was prompted by his heroism on many occasions including his quick action during an accident involving a flatbed tractor-trailer truck on I75 where he saved a man’s life.

“You don’t think about your own safety,” Merkle said. “Anybody  would have done it. I was just there at the right time.”

The event also awarded eight scholarships to children of First Responders, including Elizabeth Bradford, daughter of Lieutenant James Bradford and Lieutenant Susan Bradford, of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

 John H. Sykes, Chairman Emeritus of Sykes Enterprises, Inc., founded the scholarship in memory of his father, Captain Coy L. Sykes, who served the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department for 35 years. Chuck Sykes, President and CEO of Sykes Enterprises, Inc., continues the tradition, which provides the recipient $2,000 each year of school. Since 1991, the Coy L. Sykes Memorial Scholarship has given out more than 98 scholarships totaling approximately $800,000.

For more information or a full list of award recipients, visit

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