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Chamber to Honor First Responders with Valor Awards April 26

— There was no time for careful deliberation. The water was swiftly rising as an elderly driver was trapped inside a submerged vehicle at the intersection of Edsall Road and Winter View Drive during the flash flooding that devastated the region on Sept. 8, 2011. Unequipped for swift water rescue, Lt. Patrick Lyon and firefighters Michael Chandler, Louis Simpson and Joseph Porcelli from Ladder Truck 208 quickly assessed the situation.

Moving the truck to the edge of the flood waters, Simpson positioned the aerial ladder to allow Chandler and Lyon to attempt to reach the vehicle. But the surging current caused the car to shift position several times, leaving the men unsecured on the moving ladder 85 feet out over the rapidly rising waters.

As Simpson and Porcelli repositioned the ladder, Lyon attached a safety rope to Chandler, who climbed down to the roof of the car, broke through the sunroof with his axe and pulled the trapped driver from the vehicle.

Within minutes, the firefighters got the victim onto the ladder as the car began moving with the current, leaving Chandler still on the roof. With only seconds to spare, Chandler grabbed the ladder and hung on, dangling over the rushing waters as the car beneath him was swept downstream.

Meanwhile, the crews of Engine 205 and 209 were in the Eisenhower Valley battling the same flash flooding currents in an attempt to rescue motorists and building occupants.

As swiftly moving flood waters rushed across Eisenhower Avenue onto Telegraph Road, numerous vehicles were being swept away, trapping their occupants inside as the currents carried them downstream towards the Potomac River. Without proper equipment or training in swift water rescue, Captains Phillip Perry and Anthony Casalena and Firefighters William Dunleavy and Christopher Smith entered the rushing currents, rescuing victims from submerged vehicles and saving at least nine people who were in serious danger.

For their acts of heroism that day, these men and others will be honored April 26 at the 26th annual Alexandria Chamber of Commerce Public Safety Valor Awards to be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

The chamber will recognize 31 of the city's first responders, including Perry and Chandler who will be honored with a Gold Medal for their valor, the highest honor presented in the awards.

Other awards include Dunleavy and Lyon, who will be presented with Silver Medals and 13 first responders who earned Bronze Medals for their acts of bravery in the line of duty. The chamber will also present 12 Lifesaving Awards and two Certificates of Valor during the ceremony.

The flash flooding of Sept. 8, a result of 6 to 10 inches of rain that deluged the area, brought numerous calls for water-related rescues and Sheriff Dana Lawhorne, who was nominated by the fire department, will be honored with a Bronze Medal for his efforts that day.

Lawhorne was monitoring the situation at a hotel at Mill Road and Eisenhower Avenue when he saw a man trapped in a Ford Explorer that was caught in a strong current of water. The driver was told to stay in the car and await rescue but a sudden surge propelled the vehicle under the Eisenhower Avenue overpass and out of sight.

Lawhorne followed the path of the car, positioning himself in the median on a mound of grass where he used a road sign to maintain his stability in the water. Even as the rapidly rising currents reached waist level, Lawhorne remained with the vehicle until a fire rescue team arrived to bring the driver to safety.

Lawhorne cannot swim.

For more information on the Valor Awards, call 703-549-1000 or visit www.alexchamber.com.