Seven public safety officers from Mount Vernon District were honored as heroes last Thursday during Fairfax County's 27th Annual Valor Awards. All had performed their duties to save the lives of others putting aside concern for their own personal safety.
"Today we are honoring men and woman who put themselves in harm's way everyday for us. At the World Trade Center that morning while others were coming down to get out there was another group going up to help others," said Gerald E. Connolly, chairman, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
Presented under the joint aegis of the Board of Supervisors and the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, the awards are presented annually to members of the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department, Police Department, and Sheriff's Department. More than 50 members of those departments were honored at the luncheon ceremony which packed the ballroom of the McLean Hilton Hotel.
THE VALOR AWARDS are divided into five categories depending on the level of personal risk triggered by the incident. The highest award, the Gold Medal of Valor, is presented in recognition "of acts involving extreme personal risk, which are clearly above and beyond the call of duty."
Other awards are Silver, for "great personal risk;" Bronze, for "unusual personal risk;" Certificate of Valor, "for acts which involve personal risk;" and Lifesaving Award, to recognize "acts taken in a life-threatening situation where an individual's life is in jeopardy."
Five of the recipients, two firefighters and three police officers, from Mount Vernon District were awarded the Bronze Medal of Valor, while two other firefighters received the Lifesaving Award. All four firefighters operated as a team out of Gunston Station # 20 at the time of their actions. The three police officers are assigned to Mount Vernon Station.
One evening last June, a fireboat crew responded to a call for help from a disabled boat on the Potomac River. "The boat was rapidly taking on water" with two adults and three children on board, according to a description of the incident.
Upon arriving at the scene, Captain Steven D. Clark, Firefighter Rudy Iturrino, Technician Richard N. Mitchell, and Master Technician Virgil J. Weber, Jr., discovered the pleasure craft "sinking rapidly."
Through a coordinated effort, the four Marine Operations Team members were able to transfer all passengers safely aboard the fireboat. The damaged craft completely sunk within minutes of that transfer.
For their actions, Clark and Iturrino were awarded Bronze Medals of Valor. Mitchell and Weber were presented with Lifesaving Awards.
"On behalf of the department, I would like to congratulate each recipient for their selfless service that is in keeping with the highest traditions within the fire and rescue service," said Fire Chief Michael Neuhard in announcing the awards to the department.
MOUNT VERNON District police officers receiving the Bronze Medal of Valor were Police Officer First Class Kenyatta L. Momon, Police Officer First Class Richard W. Buisch, and Officer Mohammed S. Oluwa. The honors were bestowed for two separate incidents.
Momon was cited for his actions in apprehending a man who had accosted two women, tried to evade arrest by running from the scene, and then attempted to run down Momon with a vehicle before crashing into two parked cars. Momon "used physical force to stop the resistance and get control of the suspect," according to the program.
In a second situation, Buisch and Oluwa, responded "to a call from a distraught father saying his adult son had left their home, threatening suicide." The father believed his son had a handgun and might try to jump into the river, according to the account.
Upon locating the man on the river bank, Oluwa distracted him through conversation while Buisch got close enough to grab the man. Though he resisted, the officers, together with a U.S. Park Police officer, managed to get him back from the river and into their police cruiser.
PRIOR TO PRESENTATION of the awards, the Chamber presented their Fairfax Champion Scholarship to Amanda K. Hubert, a freshman at George Mason University. The daughter of Technician Andrew Hubert, Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department. Hubert is studying administration of justice at George Mason, according to Richard Duvall, chairman, Fairfax Chamber of Commerce.
Established by the Chamber in 1989, the Valor Scholarship Fund provides post-secondary education grants to the children "of our community's Medal of Valor recipients," according to Chamber literature.
Since the inception of the Valor Awards ceremony in 1979, nearly 350 police officers, firefighters and sheriff's deputies have been so honored.
In accepting the scholarship, Hubert read from a an essay she had written and was printed as the opening for this year's ceremony program. Entitled "What Is A Hero?" it was a tribute to her father who now serves as operations assistant to the deputy chief of operations, A Shift, Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department.
A member of the Honor Society at Herndon High School, Hubert achieved the dean's list during her freshman year in college. She ended her tribute with the following words:
"Inside the tough hands that have picked up lifeless bodies and torn down locked doors lies a hero. If you look deep in the eyes that have seen buildings crumble and mothers cry, you will see a hero ... And, this hero is my dad. He was the one who gave me life, saved the lives of others and risked his own life. This is a hero."