Twenty-five people were honored at the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce's 18th annual Valor Awards luncheon Tuesday.
Five honorees received gold medals, more than in any other year. Likewise, the six bronze medal recipients were more than ever given in that category. Also, the 11 lifesaving awards this year were the most ever given.
In conjunction with the Chamber, this year's event was sponsored by Jack Taylor's Alexandria Toyota and CVS/pharmacy. "I was a police officer in Vietnam and I am glad to say that those we honor here today are better at their jobs than I was," Taylor said. "They are truly heroes."
Gordon Howard, the vice president of CVS said, "I want us to recognize all of the family members of those we honor today. They are the unsung heroes."
Doreen Gentzler, an NBC News4 television news anchor, served as the guest narrator. She told the audience, "I am very pleased that you asked me back again this year to share this day with all of you," and then described the incidents that led to each award.
DEPUTY SHERIFF Marvin Pitts received a lifesaving award for preventing two inmates at the Alexandria Detention Center from committing suicide. On Jan. 14, 2003, Pitts was making a routine security check at the jail when he saw a female inmate crying and attempting to cut her left wrist with a sharp object. He called for assistance but, due to the amount of blood and the fact that the inmate continued cutting her wrist, Pitts opened the door before assistance arrived. He was able to take the sharp object from the inmate and physically secured her. She was treated for severe lacerations to her wrist but survived.
On Jan. 29, 2003, while making routine security checks of inmates in the booking area at the jail, Pitts observed a male inmate in a cell attempting to tie socks around his neck. Again, Pitts called for assistance but because of the emergency nature of the situation, he did not wait for help. He opened the cell door and tried to remove the socks from around the man's neck. The knots were tied so securely that Pitts was unable to remove the socks. The inmate was taken to the medical unit where the socks had to be cut off. "Without regard for his own personal safety, Deputy Pitts entered the cells of two suicidal inmates and prevented their deaths," said Gentzler..
On Saturday, April 12, 2003, Deputy Sheriff Dexter Mason was conducting a routine security check of inmates at the Alexandria Detention Center. He saw a female inmate lying on the bunk in her cell with an unusual bluish tone to her skin and clothing wrapped around her neck. He called out to her but she did not respond. He opened the door of the cell and the inmate physically attacked him. He fought her off, secured the cell door and called for assistance. Deputy Georgianna Howard responded. The two deputies opened the door once again and the inmate once again physically attacked them. They were able to subdue her and secure her with handcuffs. They were then able to remove a T-shirt, a nightgown and a bra from around her neck.
"Without regard for his own personal safety, Deputy Mason entered the cell of a suicidal inmate to prevent that suicide," Gentzler said. "For their decisive and professional actions, Mason is awarded the Certificate of Valor and Howard is awarded the Lifesaving Award."
Deputy Sheriff Ricky Traynham received a bronze medal for preventing the suicide of a male inmate at the Detention Center. On March 14, 2003, Traynham was conducting a routine security check in the critical care mental health unit at the jail. He observed a male inmate lying on his bunk in his cell. He was not moving or responding to voice commands. The deputy saw that the inmate had a plastic bag tied over his head, with his hands tied behind his back and his feet tied together. Traynham entered the cell and ripped the plastic bag off the inmate's head. He checked for vital signs and called for assistance. The inmate was not breathing but had a weak pulse. Traynham immediately began CPR and chest compressions.
"The deputy's observations, quick actions and disregard for his own personal safety prevented the suicide of an inmate," Gentzler said.
EARLY ON THE morning of Aug. 23, 2003, firefighter Robert Metzger was with his company packing up gear after a call. Engine 203 was parked on Executive Avenue with its emergency warning lights on and firefighter Jamell Anajjar was picking up fire hose from the street in preparation for returning to the station. Metzger saw a car headed straight for Anajjar at a high rate of speed. Knowing that Anajjar could not see the car because his back was turned to the oncoming vehicle, Metzger grabbed him from behind and pulled him to safety.
"I had no idea of its approach," Anajjar said. "I remember Bob shouting and being suddenly pulled from behind. Next there were headlights and an impact as the driver's side mirror caught my arm. Had Bob not grabbed me how and when he did, my entire body would have absorbed the estimated 35 mile per hour force of the car," said Anajjar.
"Instead of running from the car to protect himself, Metzger acted to protect a fellow crew member from certain harm. What started off as routine duty became an opportunity that few of us ever have: saving a colleague's life," Gentzler said.
Police officer Reginald Sheffey received a bronze medal for preventing a suicide. On May 30, 2003, a top priority call came in that there was a suicide in progress on Seminary Road. As Officer Sheffey arrived at the highrise, he saw a man standing on a plastic lawn chair on the balcony of an 11th floor apartment. A female resident informed Sheffey that her boyfriend was trying to kill himself because of a fight that they had. Sheffey and another officer went into the apartment and Sheffey began talking to the distraught man from inside the balcony door. Although Sheffey continued to talk to the man and get him inside the apartment, his behavior remained erratic. Finally, after 40 minutes, the man came down from the chair for a final time and approached Sheffey. Sheffey and his partner grabbed the man and brought him inside the apartment.
"Because of Officer Sheffey's patience, compassion and quick thinking, a desperate man found a way to live another day," Gentzler said.
SIX FIREFIGHTERS and two emergency rescue technicians were honored for rescuing a baby from a burning apartment. The call came at 11:54 p.m. on Oct. 11, 2003. There was a fire in an apartment on S. Whiting Street. Engine 208, Truck 208 and Medic 208 responded. As they went to the scene, they had no information that anyone was still in the burning apartment.
When Engine 208 arrived, a male resident ran up to the side door of the vehicle, opened it and began screaming that his child was trapped inside the burning apartment. Cpt. Douglas McDaniel radioed that there was a child trapped and yelled to firefighter Chad Lallier to pull a hose line from Engine 208. McDaniel ran into the building and up to the third floor landing. Thick black smoke was billowing out of the apartment door. Dawning his face plate, McDaniel entered the apartment alone to search for the child. As McDaniel was searching the left side of the apartment, firefighter Michael Sharpe entered and joined McDaniel. Smoke was so hot that it blacked out the view screen on the thermal imager that Sharp was carrying, rendering it useless.
Crouching low, Sharp and McDaniel methodically searched the living room/dining room area of the apartment. Firefighter Sharpe found the sliding glass door and broke it. This vented the heat and smoke, improving visibility slightly.
Simultaneously, Firefighter Lallier pulled a 200-foot hose line into the building and up three floors to the apartment. He extinguished the fire blowing from the kitchen.
By this time, firefighter Michael Ambrose reached the apartment and joined the search. He found the child in a bedroom just down the hall from the kitchen. As he was rescuing the child, firefighters Larry Lee and Randolph Thompson were assisting.
Paramedics Johnny McCarther and Donald Scott took the baby from Ambrose and provided lifesaving care for the 20-month-old girl both at the scene and in the helicopter as she was being transported to Children's National Medical Center. She remains hospitalized today.
"For his act of valor, Firefighter Michael Ambrose is awarded the gold medal," Gentzler said. "Cpt. Douglas McDaniel and Firefighter Michael Sharpe are awarded silver medals. Firefighter Chad Lallier is awarded the bronze medal and firefighters Larry Lee and Randolph Thompson and Emergency Rescue Technicians Johnny McCarther and Donald Scott all receive lifesaving awards."
FIVE FIREFIGHTERS, five emergency rescue technicians and one police officer were honored for an incident that put the lives of all involved and of many other citizens at risk. On April 19, 2003, Engine 206 and Medic 206 were dispatched to what they thought was a routine traffic accident in the 800 block of N. Jordan Street. Arriving first on the scene, the medic unit determined that there was a man with a gun. While the medic unit reported this fact to communications, the crew of Engine 206 was disembarking and did not hear the gun advisory. Cpt. Mark Dalton began a walk-around to assess the scene and was met by a man who was bleeding. Dalton saw that the man had a semi-automatic handgun in his right hand.
"I advised him that he needed to put the gun down so that I could treat him," Dalton said. "He then looked me in the eye and began to raise the gun. I had seen Firefighter David Lukes in front of me and, since I could not retreat at that time, I reached across the gunman and placed my hand over the gun and his hand to keep the gun pointed toward the ground. He then walked me back to his car."
Firefighter Michael Chandler was told about the gunman by a citizen. "Being unable to summon Cpt. Dalton by voice because of scene/engine noise, I walked up to Cpt. Dalton to advise him of this fact and became aware that the man still had the gun in his possession. Cpt. Dalton was quietly and calmly trying to persuade the man to put down the weapon so he could be treated for his injuries," Chandler said.
Lukes went to check on victims in another vehicle at the scene while Dalton and Chandler continued to try and persuade the gunman to relinquish his weapon. Deputy Chief of Police Joe Hilleary arrived on the scene, having been summoned from his nearby home by a citizen. He identified himself and told the gunman to put down his weapon. Hilleary and Chandler tried to physically disarm the gunman but were unsuccessful.
"As the suspect pulled away, I pushed him from behind in self defense and he turned and fired at Chief Hilleary, who returned fire," Chandler said. "The suspect then circled part way around the accident scene and fired again at Chief Hilleary."
Battalion Chief Michael Brown also arrived on the scene to provide support. "The gunman turned and faced all of us who were on the far side of the wreck, leveled his weapon, and fired a shot at us," Brown said. "Cpt. Dalton, Firefighter Chandler and myself took cover behind the car, and the gunman fired eight to twelve shots in our direction. After firing his weapon, the gunman moved back to where Firefighter Lukes was and pointed the gun in his face."
Firefighter Lukes remained with the injured accident victim, lying across his patient to protect him from the gunshots. Firefighter Louis Simpson, the engine driver, saw the gunman point the gun at Firefighter Lukes and the other victim, and blew the air horn to distract the gunman. The gunman turned and charged toward Chief Hilleary and fired again. Chief Hilleary returned fire, striking the suspect twice. The suspect fell to the ground, was disarmed and secured.
"For responding to the scene and providing lifesaving care for the gunman and for the accident victim, the following are awarded lifesaving awards: ERT Supervisor, Lisa Jones, ERT Jack Kump, ERT Nicole Lauerman, ERT Jeremy Lenzner and ERT Allison Talley," Gentzler said.
"Firefighter Louis Simpson had the presence of mind to blow the air horn to distract the gunman away from Firefighter Lukes and the accident victim. Once the shooting was over, he rendered emergency care," Gentzler said. "Firefighter Simpson is awarded a bronze medal of valor."
Battalion Chief Michael Brown arrived at the scene knowing of the gunman and the dangerous situation. Without hesitation, he walked into the situation to help them. Once the shooting was over, he took command of Fire Department operations in a calm manner," Gentzler said. "Battalion Chief Brown put his life on the line, remaining calm throughout the incident. For his courageous actions, he is awarded a bronze medal of valor.
"Firefighter David Lukes, after identifying that he was in the middle of a dangerous incident involving a man with a gun, chose to help and protect a victim of an earlier traffic accident. He put his life on the line to protect his patient, and after the shooting was over, provided first aid to that victim. Firefighter Lukes is awarded a gold medal of valor.
"Cpt. Mark Dalton, mindful of the danger to himself, calmly engaged the gunman in an attempt to disarm him and protect his colleagues. For his leadership and calm reactions, Cpt. Dalton is awarded a gold medal of valor.
"Firefighter Michael Chandler chose to leave a safer area behind the engine to go to Cpt. Dalton's area and assist him. His actions to help take down the gunman and, once the gunman was down, to provide immediate lifesaving care, are commendable. Firefighter Chandler put his life on the line to help endangered colleagues and is awarded a gold medal of valor.
"Deputy Chief Joe Hilleary, without question, saved the lives of the crew of Engine 206. He walked down the street from home, off duty, and tried to disarm the gunman. Once the gunman escaped and began to fire his gun, Chief Hilleary stood his ground without cover and returned fire. Once the gunman was down, Chief Hilleary disarmed him and provided security for Fire Department personnel and victims of the vehicle accident until other police officers arrived. Chief Hilleary put his life on the line, remaining calm throughout the incident. For his courageous actions, he is awarded a gold medal," Gentzler said.