Alexandria, VA – Every year, the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and Zebra shine a light on Alexandria’s first responders for the courage and dedication they bring to their jobs. This was again true in 2019. But by April 2020, when we planned to honor outstanding instances of their service, the deadly threat of COVID-19 had brought many more critical personnel into the fight.
This year the Alexandria community owes much not only to the City’s Police, Sheriff, and Fire Departments, but also to hospital professionals and public service nonprofits who continue to support and safeguard residents in all walks of life. These are the 2020 Alexandria Hero Awards.
Sergeant Zygmond Slevinski and Officers Sara Thomas, Lorenzo Hardy, Luis “Henry” Segura, and Motor Officer Loren Smith-West to receive Certificates of Valor.
Officers de-escalated a violent citizen experiencing a medical crisis in Old Town. Officers retraced the steps of the citizen and discovered a victim who, despite receiving medical aid from the responding officer, later succumbed to injuries. Officers brought resolution without additional injuries to their team and the hundreds of people out in Old Town at that time.
Sergeant Michael Vaccaro to receive a Bronze Medal.
An armed man opened fire in Old Town in December 2018. Sergeant Vaccaro arrived on the scene, placed himself between the gunman and citizens, and defused the threat. Sergeant Vaccaro performed lifesaving measures at the scene after putting himself at risk of death to protect the citizens of Alexandria.
All to receive Lifesaving Awards:
· Lieutenant Henry Cook
· Firefighter John Ashby
· Firefighter Peter Hunter
· Lieutenant Sokthear Van
· Firefighter/Medic Ryan Kilner
· Firefighter Rudy Thompson
· Firefighter Dylan Kempton
· Firefighter/Medic Lindsay Loper
· Paramedic Lori Taylor
· EMS Captain Bryan Meckes
· Fire Captain Andrew Beckett
· Firefighter James Swanick
· Firefighter Tara Blunt
· Captain John Silverwood
In the early hours of the morning, engines responded to a fire on South Pickett Street. The firefighters forced entry into the home, ascended the stairs, and simultaneously deployed ground ladders to the third floor to locate a missing senior in the structure. They located the deceased victim and removed him from the structure. Despite no reports of unaccounted-for occupants, they continued an aggressive search of the structure. During this search they located an additional unresponsive male and called for additional assistance to remove him from the building and provide lifesaving measures. This skilled team saved a man’s life, rescued several animals, and kept fire damage contained.
Public Safety Communications Officer Shavaughn Priestly-Smith to receive a Certificate of Valor.
In May 2019, Communications Officer Priestly-Smith received a call from an intoxicated 12-year-old. She aided him in getting to a safe location, while gathering information on the whereabouts of other intoxicated minors. Priestly-Smith was able to send officers to assure the safety of these other pre-teens.
Public Safety Communications Officer Latoya Wilson to receive a Certificate of Valor.
On July 7, 2019, Communications Officer Wilson received a call for a smoke odor coming from a residence building. During the call, she advised the caller to pull the fire alarm and evacuate the building. The caller followed her instructions, which allowed the residents to evacuate without being harmed. The Fire Department extinguished the flames and provided medical assistance to one injured resident.
Public Safety Communications Officer Valerie Bonsu to receive a Certificate of Valor.
In August 2019, Communications Officer Bonsu was working with police dispatch radio in response to a shooting when a second call came in for the same incident. As the situation escalated, Bonsu never raised her voice or got frustrated with the police units in her ear or with fellow co-workers who were providing her with updates to the second call. Bonsu also worked to not only respond to her original call but keep fire dispatchers and her supervisors notified of the updates from the second call. She was able to help fire and police units locate the victim and get him safely transported for medical care.
(Editor’s note: Due to the nature of the work that Communication Officers Priestly-Smith, Wilson, and Bonsu perform, which requires their being available for 911 calls, and that they have been working from home during the pandemic, they couldn’t leave to have their photos taken for these awards.)
Officers Wesley Vitale and Lisa Kolodzinski to receive Lifesaving Awards.
Officers responded to a 911 call from the spouse of a possible suicide in progress. Officers communicated through the door and window to receive permission to access the property. Once inside the citizen became violent and demanded the officers shoot him. The officers peacefully comforted the individual and were able to get the subject to share his troubles. After de-escalating the situation, he was transported to INOVA Alexandria Hospital.
Deputy Devon Neckles and Officer Shakita Warren to receive Lifesaving Awards.
In October 2019, a welfare check was requested for a citizen who had not reported to work. Officer Warren was on her way, but Deputy Neckles indicated he was nearby and volunteered to assist. Deputy Neckles, a Crisis Intervention Team member and instructor, used his training to speak with the unnerved citizen and exit the residence. Officer Warren arrived on the scene and aided in calming the scene. Officers entered the home with the resident, who shared a completed suicide note and multiple firearms.
Deputies Jason Bebow and Julio Ocasio to receive Lifesaving Awards.
While performing regular checks at the Adult Detention Center, Deputies Bebow and Ocasio discovered a suicide in progress. The deputies called for medical personnel and began lifesaving measures. Their work resuscitated the individual prior to the medical team’s arrival.
Captains Jason Kuehler and Eric Whitmore and Firefighters Tyler Degenhardt and Sandy Godsey to receive Lifesaving Awards.
Engines responded to an automatic fire alarm in a four-story building on Patrick Street. Residents were self-evacuating when informed by a resident that her infant was still inside the building. Teams entered the building and forced entry to the third floor, where they were confronted with heavy floor-to-ceiling smoke and nearly zero visibility. They confined the fire to the kitchen and initiated a search ahead of the hose line. The infant was located, evacuated from the building, and transferred to EMS for treatment and transport.
Alexandria Police Officer Sara Thomas and Arlington Police Corporal Nicole Pehrson to receive Lifesaving Awards.
In January 2020, Alexandria Officer Thomas and Arlington Corporal Pehrson were off duty when they observed 15-foot flames across the street from their residence. After closer inspection, they discovered a neighbor’s garage was on fire and spreading. Corporal Pehrson contacted 911 and Officer Thomas made her way to evacuate the family inside. Corporal Pehrson rallied the children and mother who were attempting to reenter to recover pets. A gasoline can combusted during these efforts. The family of five and their three pets were successfully removed from the residence prior to the fire department’s arrival.
Meals on Wheels Team at Senior Services of Alexandria – Senior Services of Alexandria has gone above and beyond to serve the senior population during the current medical crisis. Traditionally they provide two meals a day to 100 residents and serve over 700 seniors through other programs. With added mobility restrictions for all residents of Virginia, they have tripled their community impact to over 2,000 citizens. Depending heavily on volunteers to aid them in their initiatives, Senior Services of Alexandria has made a dramatic difference for one of this pandemic’s most vulnerable populations.
INOVA Alexandria Hospital’s Support Services – Daryl Walker, Senior Director of Support Services at INOVA Alexandria Hospital, leads a high-functioning support services team inclusive of the following departments: Environmental Services, Biomedical, Food and Nutrition, Safety and Security, Emergency Management, and Materials Management. Daryl’s team plays a critical role at the hospital around the clock and rose to the challenge the pandemic presented by adapting the hospital’s operations to promote the safest environment possible for patients and team members.
Members of the team: Daryl Walker, Ed Gomez, Kelly Edwards, Paul Brown, Adam Silvis, Feleke Bezabeh, Daniel Teka.
INOVA Alexandria Hospital’s Inpatient Team – Ruth Lee, Senior Director of the Adult Inpatient Services, and Jalil Bentaleb, Senior Director, Neuro-Spine Services and Unit 26, have been servant leaders at Inova Alexandria Hospital, guiding teams that have courageously stayed on the frontlines to care for patients. The inpatient team members remain focused on providing safe, high-quality care and have surrounded their units with countless demonstrations of commitment, teamwork, and compassion.
Members of the team: Ruth Lee, Jalil Bentaleb, Ray Suglo, Natasha Desmond, Patti DeStefano, Kate Theissen, Justina Barclay, Maria Ibrahim (Pharmacy).
INOVA Alexandria Hospital’s Emergency Department and Critical Care Team – In a time of crisis, the INOVA Alexandria Hospital Emergency Department and Critical Care teams were willing to walk toward uncertainty to care for the most vulnerable among us. The teams, led by Freddi Brubaker, Senior Director of Emergency Services, and Merebeth Richins, Senior Director, Critical Care Services, worked long shifts to save lives even in the darkest hours, yet have remained resilient and strong for each other and our community.
Members of the team: Freddi Brubaker, Vanessa Johnson, Michelle Wrieden, Winnie Frempong-Boye, Gina Patel and Kristen Marge (Pharmacy – ICU and ED).
Alexandria Health Department – The City of Alexandria’s Health Department has been working tirelessly to educate the public on how to best protect themselves from exposure to the coronavirus. Outside of providing resources to the community, they’ve partnered with Visit Alexandria to establish the ALX Promise program, where they meet one-to-one with businesses to provide training to reopen their business. Over 300 businesses have been able to re-open their doors with this additional seal of safety.
Neighborhood Health – Neighborhood Health has set up several free drive-through testing sites for their patients, many of whom are low income, uninsured, or on Medicaid. Many patients are predominantly Hispanic and Latinx who have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. Administering 200+ tests a week, they have seen a positive test result percentage twice the Northern Virginia positive rate.