As the audience at the March 14 Community Awards of Excellence ceremony focused its attention on the stage where two firefighters, Luis Chairez and Adam Rich, were being honored, an emergency call came over the men's pagers. Without hesitation, both men left the platform to respond, prompting onlookers to burst into spontaneous applause. Fortunately, the two men were relieved by another crew, and they returned to the stage to receive their award for Firefighters of the Year.

This moment illustrates the heart of the awards — a willingness to put someone who is in need first, and act on their behalf.

At the awards ceremony, hosted by the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce and the Argus-Courier, about 200 people came together at the Sheraton Petaluma to pay tribute to this year's honorees.

Sometimes it's the kind, little daily interactions that add up, making one look forward to otherwise mundane tasks. Such is the case with Carole Quan, who was honored as Service Person of the Year for her unflagging enthusiasm and friendliness as a checker at Lucky Market, where she helped make the store feel "like your neighborhood grocery."

An 18-year breast cancer survivor, Quan accepted with obvious emotion: "I'm overwhelmed," she said, holding her plaque close. "I will cherish this all my life."

Cliff Eveland, Petaluma High School's band instructor, saw a need and filled it — with music. Realizing the impact of cuts on school programs, Eveland came up with an idea for a school music fundraiser. It evolved into the enormously popular Petaluma Music Festival, which last year raised $30,000 for school music programs. Eveland was passionate in his acceptance of the Award for Excellence in Education.

"Why give an award to someone so lucky?" he asked. "I get to wake up, teach music, and have the privilege of working on a music festival that does so much good!"

Another honoree who expressed gratitude to the community was the Citizen of the Year, Gary Imm. Imm credits what is now called The Boys & Girls Club for "turning me from a very shy 12-year-old into a kid that walked out three years later with leadership skills and self confidence."

Imm thanked his wife of nearly 50 years, Lynn, for being his "biggest fan, his inspiration and his best friend."

Imm also credited the strong heritage that is part of Petaluma's culture: "What is important is to understand and practice the ethic of those that came before you."

In spite of the varied achievements of the recipients, a thread ran through the values and beliefs they expressed: that of being part of a group or a team.

Perhaps that attitude goes back to Petaluma's pioneer roots, which still run deep here, where generation after generation has worked the farms and ranches and learned to rely upon and support their neighbors.

The Excellence in Agriculture award went to the North Bay Dairy Women, a group founded in 1965. As demanding as their lifestyle is, the North Bay Dairy Women carve out time to conduct numerous educational and philanthropic events.

The needy, the shelterless and the disenfranchised include people from all walks of life. For Marie Fletcher and Ed Lampe, these people deserved to be treated with dignity, and to have access to resources that could put them back on track.

"There's a spirit in this town that causes miracles to happen every day," said Marie Fletcher. "Ed and I caught that spirit."

For several years, Lampe and Fletcher worked as a team, cooking, mentoring and helping to teach classes for the Committee on the Shelterless' Rent Right program. In December of 2012, Lampe passed away unexpectedly. The two were named Volunteers of the Year and Ed's daughter Caroline Purtell accepted the award on his behalf.

"When I went to the COTS' facility, I could see my dad's presence there," she said, "and I'm so proud of his accomplishments."

Also honored for helping those in need was Police Officer William "Bill" Baseman, who received the Officer of the Year award for his commitment to establishing a citywide collaboration with other organizations such as the Petaluma Health Center and the Committee on the Shelterless to "decriminalize" how the police department responds to those suffering from mental health issues.

The 18-year veteran officer attributed the program's success to his fellow officers and the public as well.

Petaluma gave a big salute to Steve Kemmerle, presenting him with the Outstanding Community Service award for his work in organizing the town's popular Veterans Day Parade. Kemmerle has encountered obstacles, including an economic downturn and resultant lack of funds, but has found ways around them, rallying local Veteran's organizations and other Petaluma businesses to help sponsor the event.

"I am very grateful to all who contribute to this event," he said.

There's no doubt that some of the most exciting moments of 2012 for Petaluma residents were generated by "the boys of summer," the Petaluma National Little League team that bested 6,500 other teams in 90 countries to compete in the semifinals of the Little League World Series, capturing third place in the international tournament.

The team's manager and coaches were honored with the Service to Youth award for their contributions to the team's success. Eric Smith, Mike Slate and Trevor Tomei thanked the parents and the fans saying, "We could not have done it without you and your support. Even in Pennsylvania we felt it."

An unexpected and light-hearted moment came in the form of a "flash mob" that led to the Service to Seniors award. Members of the audience popped up, singing small segments of songs that led into the introduction of the three recipients, Nancy Streeter, Alice Rovegno and Ginny Cox, who volunteer with the Petaluma People Services Center and have collectively contributed more than 34,000 hours.

"These wonderful women make sure that every senior in this community knows they are welcome at PPSC," said presenter Elece Hempel, director of the organization.

Providing healthful, humanely raised meat is the mission of Field to Family Natural Foods, which donates to a number of local organizations. Amy and Wayne Dufond grew their poultry business with these principles and continue to improve upon them. "We also want to give back to the people who have been so supportive of us," said Amy Dufond, who accepted the award for Small Business of the Year.

The Large Business of the Year award went to Labcon North America, a specialty manufacturer of precision plastics. Labcon moved to Petaluma in 2003 and now employs 200 people. The firm is committed to sustainable development and creating quality jobs.

Company President Jim Happ recalled a ceremony in Washington, D.C., where the U.S. Commerce Secretary introduced Labcon with a tongue-in-cheek announcement, "…and now, from Petaluma, California!" But for Jim Happ, it's no joke. "We're here to stay," he declares.

(Contact Dyann Espinosa at argus@arguscourier.com.)