For the last five years, emergency dispatcher and volunteer Sandy Hook firefighter Robert Nute has proved a calm, compassionate voice on the other end of frantic calls about everything from fires to choking children.
His demeanor is such that he has become a leader among the nine-member emergency dispatch team, officials said in an awards ceremony Wednesday in the municipal center.
On Dec. 14, two hours and 35 minutes into his 12-hour shift that starts at 7 a.m., Nute was forced to tap all his resources. He had to get police to the Sandy Hook Elementary School for an "active shooter" in the building.
The world now knows what unfolded in less than 5 minutes in that neighborhood school -- 20 first-graders and six of their educators killed in a 154-bullet shooting spree.
The first 911 call was the kick-start of a day that redefined life here and tested Nute's ability to multi-task, swallow his own emotions and save lives, officials said.
The gunman is now known to have been armed with multiple, high-power weapons and ammunition enough to do far more harm than he did, but he killed himself when he heard sirens just minutes after his rampage began.
Nute's top-notch performance on that day, as well as on other days he comes to work, was honored Wednesday afternoon in a ceremony attended by about 35 municipal and Police Department employees. He earned two standing ovations.
The 56-year-old father of two adult children and a 15-month-old grandson is the national winner of the second annual Smart911 Telecommunicator Awards, cited for "routinely inspiring peers and mentoring newer members of the Emergency Communications Center."
The center that routinely answers two or three 911 calls an hour was suddenly thrust into a "day of pain and chaos" during which Nute and his partner Jen Barocsi were fielding 150 calls an hour, said Smart911 Community Marketing Manager Jessica Olson.
First Selectman Pat Llodra recalled seeing Nute as he performed his duties on Dec. 14, and despite being "clearly distraught," doing what was required and demonstrating leadership for his colleagues amid an unimaginable tragedy, she said.
"Bob performs every day at an extremely high level," Llodra said, citing Nute as compassionate, calm, kind, clear and focused as he handles calls.
"He represents all that is the best in the dispatch center," Llodra said.
His nominator, Maureen Will, director of the town's emergency telecommunications center, said Nute's selection was not just for how he performed Dec. 14, but how he worked "before and after" that day.
In the department, Nute is a communications training officer and is an adjunct instructor of fire science at Naugatuck Valley Community College.
In her nomination letter, Will highlighted Nute's daily consistency, his life and fire service experience that enables him to be a mentor of fellow dispatchers.
"Bob's quiet demeanor and sharp wit have shown him in good stead as he was working the day of 12/14/12. I am proud to nominate him for this award as I would be of all my staff," Will said.
"We did our jobs," Nute said.