Cover Story

Recognizing the 2019 Safety & Valor Awards Recipients

When trouble comes, they respond

ALEXANDRIA, VA – We who live in the City of Alexandria are fortunate in many ways. And there is much that we take for granted, like stunning historical surroundings, top notch municipal services, and knowing that we can rely on outstanding first responders. Most of us will never need their extraordinary service, but when life serves up trouble, when overwhelming odds turn against us, these are the people who come to our aid.

On May 7, the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce will present its 2019 Public Safety & Valor Awards to recognize members of the Alexandria Police Department, Fire Department, Sheriff’s Office, and Department of Emergency Communications for extraordinary service over the past year.

The incidents summarized below range from the terror of a high-rise apartment fire to a woman giving birth on an interstate; from a toddler suddenly not breathing to a woman being beaten by her husband, and more. That these crises had positive outcomes is due to our first responders’ exemplary training, preparedness, fast thinking and ability to act without hesitation, and their courage.

The 2019 recipients are certainly not the only Alexandria officers who merit recognition, but the 21 individuals receiving awards this year were, as always, chosen by their peers.

The 2019 Public Service and Valor Awards will be presented on Tuesday, May 7, at the Holiday Inn & Suites, 625 First Street, Alexandria.

September 14, 2017 – Stabbing in progress; victim in immediate peril

At 1:30 in the morning, Officer Osama Sharif responded to an assault to find a man lying on the ground in a large pool of blood. It was a chaotic scene, with citizens running around both the victim and the residence where he had been attacked.

Officer Sharif grabbed a shirt and applied pressure to a profusely bleeding stab wound in the victim’s right thigh. Officer David Daniels soon joined Officer Sharif in rendering aid, holding the victim’s bloody hand and periodically asking him to squeeze that hand as the victim drifted in and out of consciousness. This periodic check-in kept the victim conscious, somewhat alert, and most important, alive.

While they were saving his life, the victim told the officers that another victim and the perpetrator were inside the residence. Officers Asad Nawaz and Wesley Vitale responded, breaching a locked bedroom door to find the knife-wielding suspect standing over the second victim. When the officers entered the room, the suspect turned the knife on himself.

Without hesitation, Officers Nawaz and Vitale both deployed effective, less-than-lethal electronic control devices. The suspect dropped the knife, fell to the ground, and was taken into custody. At trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to 43 years in prison.

Without the immediate aid rendered by Officers Sharif and Daniels, the stabbing victim would have succumbed to his wounds. And fast action by Officers Nawaz and Vitale ensured the suspect was taken into custody.

July 16, 2018 – High-rise apartment fire, occupants trapped inside

At 1:53 a.m. on July 16, first alarm units of the Alexandria Fire Department came on the scene of a high-rise apartment building to find a significant volume of fire showing from a second-floor apartment. The apartment’s entry door had been left open allowing fire and smoke to spread into the hallway, and making evacuations by that route impossible. The department was receiving multiple reports that occupants were trapped inside.

Rescue Squad 206 charged into the building to find a man straddling an apartment window sill, with smoke billowing past him out the window. More victims could be seen through the haze.

Captain Chad Lallier immediately ordered a ladder to the window, which Firefighter Devin Velazquez scaled to bring the man in the window down to safety. Velasquez and Firefighter Edward Freeman, equipped with breathing apparatuses, entered through the smoky window, checked for all the victims, and with assistance from Captain Lallier and Firefighter Kenneth Salfelder, brought those residents safely down.

Meanwhile, Firefighter Michael Ambrose had driven Engine 210 around the building to establish another water supply only to discover that more residents were trapped on the second floor. He immediately ascended a ladder and entered the building, but realized that the occupants would be safest staying in place so that firefighters could evacuate them from inside the building, not through a window. He then set up the second water supply.

Firefighter/Medic Richard Krimmer was Acting EMS for this incident, tasked with managing evaluations, treatment and transport of the injured, and with rehabilitation of firefighters. His EMS group evaluated more than 15 building occupants, three firefighters, and one police officer. They transported three civilians and performed rehabilitation for multiple fire companies.

Officer Andrew Harrell

August 11, 2018 – Two-year-old silent, limp, not breathing

On August 11, during a routine check on an alarm call at 2800 Richmond Highway, Officer Andrew Harrell heard screams coming from farther down the street. Moving toward the sound, Harrell was advised by dispatch that a 911 call

had come in from a Hume Avenue address. A mother reported that her 2-year-old son had stopped breathing. The parents were attempting CPR, but getting no response. Officer Harrell took off running to the house, where he found a chaotic scene. Several family members surrounded the child, who was lying on the floor.

Officer Harrell cradled the child face down in his arms. The little boy was limp and making no sound. Harrell quickly used the heel of his hand to perform “back blows,” and in seconds, the toddler began breathing and moving again.

When medics arrived on scene, the child was found to be in good health. Family members told officers that the boy had suffered from a fever and been given an aspirin. Shortly after, he started struggling to breathe and then stopped altogether. The mother said she saw her child begin to turn blue and attempted CPR, but to no avail.

Officer Harrell’s situational awareness, quick thinking, and ability to act fast saved this boy from serious injury or death before medics were able to respond to the scene.

October 8, 2018 – No drowning on our watch!

On October 8, Fireboat 201, along with shore-based units, responded to a report of a person in distress in the Potomac River. The crew from Engine 201, consisting of five members from all three shifts, moved fast from quarters to the fireboat and were underway in minutes. While navigating toward the reported location, two crew members donned dry suits and personal flotation devices. Another prepared a Demaree Inflatable Boat to deploy, if needed, in shallow waters. The fourth crewman performed a visual search for the person in peril and fifth operated the vessel. Because all these functions were performed flawlessly, the crew was prepared when the female victim was located less than a quarter mile from the dock.

The rescue was deemed a viable from a rear swim platform and the “man overboard” action was put into motion. As the operator maneuvered the 50-foot, 60,000-pound vessel into position alongside the victim, crew members prepared to pull the woman onto the vessel. At this point, she began to scream, thrash, punch, and bite, and attempted to swim under the platform to escape. But the crew, risking injury, never let go of her. Once brought onto the platform, the woman continued to violently resist. Crew members spoke to her calmly, moved her safely to the upper deck, and swiftly navigated to Jones Point Park, where Medic 205 and Engine 205 were standing by. Their excellent preparation allowed for a quick and efficient patient transfer and transport.

December 16, 2018 – Deterring a suicidal inmate

In the evening hours of December 18, a female inmate had a mental health crisis during a recreation period in the detention center gym. New deputy recruit Steven Hand noticed her alone, crying, and acting unusually. Observing her apparent instability, Deputy Hand contacted his supervisor and then escorted the inmate to the medical unit for evaluation.

Deputy Hand’s keen observation and fast interaction indicated a need to keep a closer watch on this inmate, who had been difficulties during her incarceration. She was moved to a cell where she could be monitored more closely.

Deputies Ashley Battle and Eloy Reyes were working in the booking area that night. Deputy Battle had interacted with the inmate the day before. While monitoring various camera feeds, Deputies Battle and Reyes observed that the inmate had covered the light inside her cell. Using her training and interpersonal communication skills, Battle spoke with the inmate to get her to remove her blanket from the light.

Hours later, early on December 16, the inmate covered the security cameral inside her cell. Battle and Reyes quickly made their way to the cell, expecting another verbal intervention. What the found was something different: The inmate on the floor with a torn bed sheet wrapped around her neck and tied to the toilet in an apparent suicide attempt. The deputies quickly untied the bed sheet to relieve pressure around the woman’s neck. While they did so, she simply said, “You came at the wrong time.”

When the inmate was out of danger, she was placed on suicide watch protocols. Both deputies advised that the sheet was tied extremely tight and that the inmate had the means and intention of taking her own life. If not for vigilance, quick response, and life-saving measures demonstrated by all three deputies, the incident could have had a tragic outcome.

PCOII Tiana Allen

January 20, 2019 – A new life enters the world on I395

On January 20, 2019, Department of Emergency Communications took a 911 call from a woman giving birth in her own vehicle on 1395 Northbound, near Seminary Road. PCOII Tiana Allen heard her colleague responding to the call and began to assist, ultimately taking over the call. PCOII Allen stayed on the phone with the woman, giving her instruction and encouragement. She was patient and empathetic, and she stayed on the line until medics arrived as the baby was born.

PCOII Leslie Lewis

February 5, 2019 – Acting to stop assault and strangulation

At 11:44 p.m., PCOII Leslie Lewis took a call from a woman who said her husband was beating her. The caller was whispering on the line, and then it disconnected. PCOII Lewis returned the call and a man answered, so Lewis acted as if she were a friend of the woman caller and asked to speak to her.

The man immediately hung up the phone and dialed back the number on his caller ID, but Lewis had advised other Department of Emergency Communications staff that she alone would answer that call. She took the call, speaking with the same man who now insisted that the original caller, the woman, was no longer at his location.

While this was going on, a police response had been dispatched. When they arrived, the police found that the woman had been seriously harmed. The man was arrested and charged with assault and strangulation.

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