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Students’ Heroism Honored

Fire department awards selflessness and extraordinary actions.

Extraordinary courage and clear, quick thinking in the face of imminent danger are characteristics usually attributed to professionally trained adults. Last Thursday and Friday, three Mount Vernon students, ranging from elementary to high school age, joined those ranks.

Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department presented Andre Jamal Robinson with their “Citizen Valor Award.” They also recognized Heidi and Rachel Jenkins and Jon Alderson with their “Life Saving Award.” Each had taken actions that saved at least one life and prevented a potential life-threatening event.

On the morning of Jan. 20, Andre, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at Walt Whitman Middle School, and his grandmother, Penny Robinson were descending the stairs from their second floor apartment at Sacramento Square when they noticed black smoke coming from an apartment on the first floor. They saw an adult female and child running from the apartment screaming “fire.”

While Andre’s grandmother called 911, he ran to his apartment, grabbed a fire extinguisher, ran back downstairs into the burning apartment and attempted to put out the blaze. When that extinguisher went dry he retrieved another by breaking the glass cover in the hall, rushing back into the apartment and successfully stopping the blaze.

“Andre’s quick thinking and courage helped control the fire throughout the apartment complex and most likely prevented injuries to residents and possibly to firefighters who had arrived at the scene,” according to the Citizen Valor Award presented to him in the school’s auditorium, filled with his classmates, last Thursday morning.

“This is a very special day here at Walt Whitman. We are here to honor one of our own,” said Principal Otha Davis. “It’s always good to give back to your community. And for his actions, we are declaring this to be Andre Robinson Day here at Walt Whitman Middle School,” Davis continued.

WHEN ANDRE came to the podium, Lt. Raul Castillo, departmental public information officer, told the assembled audience of students, teachers, school administrators and firefighters, “The reason we are here today is to recognize one of our favorite students — your hero and our hero, Andre Jamal Robinson.”

“We are very proud of what you have done,” said Captain Clayton Thompson in presenting Andre with his award as well as a Fairfax County Fire & Rescue jacket and hat.

Andre admitted, “I was scared but my friend’s aunt was in there and I didn’t want the fire to spread. I just saw fire and smoke.”

His grandmother agreed with the “scary” part. “I was calling 911 because our neighbor was too upset to do it. While Andre was doing his thing I was doing mine by knocking on other doors to alert people. It was early in the morning and many were still asleep,” Penny Robinson said.

“I’m totally proud of him. I told him he was a real hero. He was really awesome. He just went in and took charge,” his grandmother said.

His mother, Angela, beamed with that same pride before, during and after the award ceremony. “I am so proud. I’m the mama bird and my bird chest is way out,” she said.

“He’s just an outstanding young man. He’s both playful and on the honor roll. A truly amazing kid,” Angela Robinson said. “After it was over he was sitting in the car with his computer game as if nothing had happened.”

That was also how Andre accepted his award: Appreciative, but humble and somewhat sensitive to the attention. He seemed more content to hold his one-year-old sister as they posed by the large fire department ladder truck than dwell on the recognition.

ON FRIDAY MORNING Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department presented “Life Saving Awards” to three students whose quick thinking and disciplined actions literally saved a neighbor’s life after he became entangled in Potomac River hydrilla.

At approximately 11:50 a.m. Sept. 3, 2005, Heidi and Rachel Jenkins were playing in the yard of their riverside home on Southdown Drive just off the George Washington Memorial Parkway. That’s when they heard the screams for help and noticed their neighbor, Henry Miller, in the water some 60 yards off shore holding onto his aluminum row boat.

At that distance the water is approximately 10 to 12 feet deep and filled with hydrilla at that time of year. It can entangle a swimmer’s legs and prevent them from moving. “We never go swimming in that area after mid summer,” said 11-year-old Heidi, a sixth grader at Waynewood Elementary School.

Upon hearing the calls for help, Heidi and her 10-year-old sister, Rachel, a fifth-grader at Waynewood, called for their father, Captain Larry Jenkins, an off-duty 31-year-veteran with Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department. When Jenkins called to Miller, his neighbor shouted back “My friend is drowning.” That’s when Jenkins called 911.

Another neighbor, 15-year-old Jon Alderson, a student at West Potomac High School, came to aid Jenkins while rescue units were on the way. He lowered his 24-foot Cobalt motorboat into the water from its cradle, picked up Jenkins and the other EMS personnel that had arrived, and went out to save Miller and his friend.

Miller was able to be saved and transported to Inova Mount Vernon Hospital for observation and released, according to Castillo. However, his friend, Ronald M. Bolton, 72, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Bolton had taken an aluminum rowboat out to Miller’s sailboat, moored approximately 100 yards off shore, to bail out some water. For reasons unknown he decided to swim back with the rowboat tied to him. That’s when he became entangled in the hydrilla. Miller, also in his 70s, seeing the situation, attempted to rescue Bolton and also became entangled, Jenkins said at the time.

Jon maneuvered his boat so that the firefighters were able to pull the two men onto the back platform. Richard Alderson, his wife Debbie and Jon had only moved into their new home on Southdown in March.

“The day before, Jon and I took the boat to the marina and back. I wanted to make sure Jon knew how to handle it and get it in and out of the water. Less than 24 hours later this happened and he knew just what to do and how to do it,” said a proud Richard Anderson following the award ceremony.

In presenting the awards to Heidi and Rachel, Battalion Chief Floyd Elmore, cited the sisters’ “extraordinary actions and clear thinking in helping to rescue one person from the Potomac River.”

Joining in the ceremony, Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland told them, “Everyone in Fairfax County is extremely proud of you.” At the time of the incident, Lt. Castillo acknowledged, “It was the girls’ quick thinking, by immediately alerting their father, that probably saved Miller’s life.” Jon’s “expert navigation of the boat in assisting firefighters” to successfully rescue Miller coupled with his “quick actions and selfless service” were cited in presenting him with the Lifesaving Award.