They jumped into rushing water to save stranded motorists, chased armed gunmen into the night and ran into burning buildings to save innocent lives. Their valor was the subject of a series of awards given by the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce — the 21st year that the chamber has presented the awards to Alexandria heroes.
"These men and women rushed into situations most of us would run away from," said Rick Dorman, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, at the outset of the ceremony. "Today we will hear their stories and appreciate their valor."
Four recipients received a Gold Medal, which is given to those who knowingly place themselves in peril while attempting to save the lives of others. Six recipients received a Silver Medal, which is awarded to those who expose themselves to risk in the performance of an official act. Eleven recipients received a Bronze Medal, which is awarded to those who demonstrate ingenuity during an emergency. Five recipients received a Certificate of Valor, which is awarded to those who demonstrate judgement, zeal or ingenuity above what is normally expected. Eight recipients received a Lifesaving Award, which is given to those who brave life-threatening situations when an individual’s life is in jeopardy.
"The kind of people who go into public safety aren’t the kind of people who stand idly by during an emergency," said Lt. Jamie Bartlett. "That’s just the kind of people they are."
Television personality Alison Starling acted as the host of the event, recounting the individual stories of bravery as the awards were presented. Starling, who is the co-host of Good Morning Washington and ABC7 News at Noon, said that she was proud to live in Alexandria because of its top-notch public-safety employees.
"A brave heart is the most powerful weapon," said Starling before launching into the individual acts of valor:
<b>Jan. 30, 2006:</b> Deputy Sheriff Gloria Wright was working in the city jail’s booking office when she observed an inmate enter a restroom. When some time had passed and she noticed that he was still in the restroom, she knocked on the door to check the status of the inmate. When he did not respond, she knocked louder. Finally, with no response coming from the man in the restroom, she forced open the door to find the man lying in a fetal position with a black trash bag pulled completely over his head in a suicide attempt. For Wright’s attention to detail and quick action, she was given a Certificate of Valor.
<b>Feb. 1, 2006: </b>Officer Robert Opsut was patrolling the neighborhood east of the Braddock Street Metro station when he noticed smoke billowing from a townhouse near the intersection of Wythe Street and North Fayette Street. Disregarding his own safety, Opsut rushed into the building to find people or pets that may have been trapped inside. After he became confident that everyone had already safety exited the townhouse, he exited the burning building. For his heroic rescue efforts, Opsut was given a Certificate of Valor.
<b>Feb. 12, 2006:</b> Alexandria Firefighter Jodi Renner was driving south along the New Jersey Turnpike when she noticed an accident in which an Army solider had been severely injured. Renner immediately came to the soldier’s aid, checking his pulse, wounds, breathing and pupils in order to determine what treatment was necessary. After calling for help, she entered the twisted automobile so she could ensure that the victim’s head was immobilized. She controlled the bleeding by applying bandages while waiting for New Jersey State Police to respond. When the emergency response team arrived 37 minutes into the incident, Renner briefed them and the victim’s status and helped them remove the soldier from the automobile. For her selfless actions and decisive action, Renner was given the Bronze Award.
<b>May 7, 2006: </b>Officer Zygmond Slevinski was driving east on Seminary Road when he was flagged down by a man who said his girlfriend was suicidal and that she may jump from the bridge over Interstate 395. The officer approached the suicidal woman and reached over the guardrail to rescue her. By putting himself in harm’s way to save the suicidal woman, Slevinski was given a Lifesaving Award.
<b>June 7, 2006: </b>Officer Jean-Claude Dorsainvil and Detective Betty Sixsmith were dispatched to an urgent call for service on Lincolnia Road, where they found that a woman had taken a hostage and was threatening more violence. The woman eventually released the hostage and placed a knife to her own throat. Sixsmith, who is a trained hostage negotiator, distracted the woman as Dorsainvil grabbed her arms as the knife dropped to the ground. For their quick and decisive action, Dorsainvil was given a Bronze Medal and Sixsmith was given a Certificate of Valor.
<b>June 25, 2006: </b>When Alexandria was experiencing a series of heavy thunderstorms, several parts of the city were experiencing flash floods. That’s when Engine 207 arrived at the intersection of Quaker Land and Braddock Road, where firefighters found three vehicles stranded in the center of the intersection. Capt. Robert Robinson decided to evacuate the citizens from their vehicles and move them to a safer area — a task that was very dangerous as Firefighters William Dunleavy and Douglas Townshend contended with driving rain and vehicles that ignored the flares that had already been placed in the road. For their bravery during the flood, Robinson, Dunleavy and Townshend were each given a Bronze Medal.
<b>June 25, 2006: </b>During the flood, Engine 205 moved through the city saving several motorists from rapidly rising water levels. When they arrived at the intersection of Telegraph Road and Interstate 495, they discovered that several people had been stranded under the bridge. The firefighters put on their personal floatation devices and rushed into the waters to save people and an infant who had been in a pickup truck that had been submerged in the floodwaters. The firefighters used an inflatable Zodiac boat and throw rings to rescue other motorists who were now standing on the top of their vehicles. Firefighters William Fowler and William Konecheck were each given a Certificate of Valor. Capt. D. Glen Taylor, Paramedic Supervisor Craig Youngsdale and Timothy Quist were each given a Bronze Medal.
<b>June 25, 2006: </b>Detective Victor Ignacio was driving south on Telegraph Road when he noticed the floodwaters overtaking motorists and swallowing their cars. When he noticed that children were in some of the cars, he made a desperate call for help. Soon afterward, officers Stephen Parker, Shawn Adcock, Peter Feltham and Michael Nugent arrived on the scene and battled the treacherous waters and floating debris to save the individuals. Soon afterward, Sgt. Dennis Andreas and Officer Douglass Serven arrived on the scene and entered the waters to assist in the rescue effort. Police officials say that it’s difficult to determine how many lives they saved that night. Sgt. Dennis Andreas, Officer Shawn Adcock, Officer Stephen Parker and Officer Douglass Serven were each given a Gold Medal. Detective Victor Ignacio, Officer Michael Nugent and Officer Peter Feltham each received a Silver Medal.
<b>Aug. 3, 2006: </b>Just before midnight, Officer Kim Hendrick was leaving an off-duty security detail on Pendleton Street when he heard gunshots coming from Samuel Madden Homes. He called for help and then began running toward the sound of gunfire. Meanwhile Officer Brian Fromm and his K-9 Titan were travelling south on North Royal Street when they were notified that shots had been fired. Hendrick and Fromm chased the man to the parking lot at Oronoco Street and North Pitt Street, then Titan was released to hold the suspect in place as he was trying to escape over a utility box. For their remarkable courage, Fromm and Hendrick were given the Silver Medal. Titan was given a Bronze Medal.
<b>Nov. 22, 2006: </b>Deputy Sheriff Lynn Oliver was working in the city jail’s processing office when she noticed that a belligerent inmate banging on the cell window demanding to be released. When she checked the cell, she found that the inmate had removed her shirt and tied it around her neck in a suicide attempt. Oliver called for assistance, and the responding deputies were successful in removing the shirt from around the inmate’s neck. For her efforts, Oliver was given a Lifesaving Award.
<b>Nov. 22, 2006: </b>A duck hunter in the Potomac River was swamped when his boat was swamped by wind and rain, with weather conditions creating three- to four-foot waves. Alexandria firefighters from Engine 201 and Engine 204 responded to the dock, where they boarded Boat 201 and set out to find the boater. After passing under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, Boat 201 found the tired wet hunter with his dog at his side. The boat’s crew fought increasingly violent weather conditions to move the boat toward the man and his dog, pulling him to safety and returning him to the Alexandria dock. For their bravery, each member of the Fire Department’s rescue crew was given a Lifesaving Award: Capt. Anthony Casalena, Capt. Joseph Warner, Lt. Anthony Washington, Firefighter Patrick Evans, Firefighter Glenn Renick and Firefighter Donald Webber.
<b>Dec. 5, 2006: </b>When Deputy Sheriff Vikas Ohri noticed that one of the inmates at the Alexandria Detention Center was creating a makeshift rope, he called Deputy Sheriff Rasheedah Jordan for assistance. The two rushed into the cell, where the inmate was attempting to hang himself. The deputies fought the man, removed the rope and restrained the man. For their keen perceptions and quick response, Jordan and Ohri were both given a Bronze Medal.