Medal of Valor, Lifesaving Award, Public Safety Person of the Year, Public Safety Unit of the Year, Communications Person of the Year and Medal of Merit
Duluth, GA- To recognize Gwinnett's public safety professionals for helping to strengthen our community, the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and Presenting Sponsors Entaire Global Companies, Inc., Mobile Communications of Gwinnett, Inc. and Motorola, Inc. presented the fifth annual Valor Awards on March 26, 2010 at 11:30 a.m. at the Atlanta Marriott – Gwinnett Place. The keynote speaker at the event was Sergeant Major Billy Waugh, former Green Beret and CIA Operative.
This special reception honored those in public safety by presenting awards to the men and women who have given the most to protect and serve the citizens of Gwinnett. There were six different award categories including the Medal of Valor Award, Lifesaving Award, Public Safety Person of the Year, Public Safety Unit of the Year, Communications Person of the Year and Medal of Merit.
The Medal of Merit is awarded to an outstanding public safety program for the community which included personal time given both on and off the job. Duluth Police Department MPO Randy Samuel's Our Creation (OC) program was awarded the Medal of Merit. OC was designed and developed by Officer Samuel to promote positive youth development focused on building the strengths of the individual youth participants to promote the likelihood of a positive outcome in their lives. Officer Samuel partnered with Duluth Middle and High School administrators, juvenile court and DEFACS to identify OC candidates. In 2009, through the OC program, 27 middle and high school students worked together with mentors to address social issues, participate in community service projects, and become involved in local civic activities which all helped to reduce delinquent behavior and increase school and community involvement. Currently, the OC program has a waiting list, which is maintained by the Duluth Middle School guidance counselor.
The Lifesaving Award, given to the public safety person/unit in recognition of acts taken in a life-threatening situation where an individual's life is in jeopardy, either medically or physically, was awarded to Sergeant Stephen Weed, Officer Jami Hollis, Officer Rico Anderson, and Officer Matt Price with the Lilburn Police Department. One of many heroic stories from the Great Flood of 2009 began when these three officers responded to a citizen in distress call. After quickly realizing that she was trapped in her own home by the rising flood waters, Ms. Rush called the Lilburn Police Department and shortly thereafter escaped from her home and climbed onto her roof. Upon arriving on the scene, Commanding Officer Sgt. Weed quickly realized he had to make a life or death decision – allow Ms. Rush to be swept away to her death by the rising flood waters or allow his team to knowingly face imminent danger and attempt to rescue the distressed citizen. During their attempt to rescue Ms. Rush, at some point Officer Hollis became separated from the team and was found some 30 feet away clinging for life to a tree limb. Gwinnett County Fire Rescue Units, along with other city workers, were able to fashion a system of rescue ropes and pull everyone to safety.
The Communications Person/Public Safety Person/Unit of the Year is awarded to those who have performed their job with exceptional skill, expertise, innovation and results.
The Communications Person of the Year was awarded to Communications Officer IV Leslie Leatherwood. According to Officer Leatherwood's nominator, Communications Shift Supervisor Carrie Bennett, Officer Leatherwood is a highly motivated supervisor who is dedicated to making the 911 center the best that it can be. Unprompted, Officer Leatherwood took it upon herself to develop training manuals for police radio, fire radio, and phone training positions. Developing the training manuals took extensive research and over two years to complete. The 911 center has used the manuals for over a year. Due to the center being able to retain better trained employees because of the training manual created by Officer Leatherwood, the communication's department position vacancy rate has been cut in half and the number of employees in training for more than a year has been reduced to zero.
The Public Safety Person of the Year was given to Gwinnett County Police Department Sergeant Edward Restrepo. In May of 2009 Sergeant Restrepo was asked to attend a case meeting regarding a homicide related to a disturbing trend in Gwinnett County involving a significant increase in violent crimes being committed by Dominican males. Based on the information Sergeant Restrepo was able to provide and the fact that traditional investigative methods were not productive, a task force was formed with Sergeant Restrepo as the commander of the task force. Two months into the investigation Sergeant Restrepo and the other task force members had identified members of a Dominican organized crime operation including the identity of the leader and method of operation. The task force resulted in a total of 25 felony arrests in Gwinnett County, New York City, Miami, and other jurisdictions. Due to the success of the operation, the FBI has now joined the public safety effort and is pursuing federal charges on many of these individuals.
The Public Safety Unit of the Year Award was given to the Gwinnett County Fire & Emergency Services Swiftwater Rescue Team. In 2009, the Swiftwater Rescue Team responded to 53 calls specific to the specialty team on top of the regular call volume for fire and emergency services. The year 2009 brought a new level of rescues to the team when the unprecedented rainfall flooded the streets of Gwinnett County. During the Great Flood of 2009, the fire department as a whole responded to over 300 emergency calls related to flooding. Swiftwater crews assisted with 20 major rescue scenes that morning as crews were sent to various areas of the county to combat the rising flood waters and to rescue victims from heavy currents.
The Bronze Medal of Valor is awarded in situations where during the course of an emergency, a public safety official/unit demonstrates extraordinary judgment and performance of his/her/their duties. Officer Carly Davis and Sergeant Jeremy Hicks were awarded the Bronze Medal of Valor because of their actions in response to an armed robbery at a fast food restaurant. The two robbers where armed with a handgun and were holding five people hostage while they robbed the store and each person. Sergeant Hicks and Officer Davis, during the course of the emergency, knowingly exposed themselves to great personal risk in the performance of their duties. They demonstrated extraordinary judgment and performance of their duties in the apprehension of the two armed robbers. They arrived on scene in less than a minute and had one of the robbers in custody in less than two minutes. Their swift action and strategic response allowed for the apprehension of these two individuals who have been linked to numerous armed robberies in the metro Atlanta area as well as in North Carolina.
The Silver Medal of Valor, the second highest award for bravery and heroism, is awarded in situations when a public safety official/unit knowingly exposes himself/herself/themselves to great personal risk in the performance of an official act. The Silver Medal of Valor was awarded to Officer Timothy Frates with Gwinnett County Department of Corrections. In April of 2009, Officer Timothy Frates was supervising his inmate work detail in Lawrenceville. As the work crew was painting over gang related graffiti at the rear of a gasoline station, Officer Frates heard what he thought was an engine back-firing. When he turned to look, he saw four male suspects firing handguns into a car across the street behind a building. Officer Frates immediately announced a "shots fired" call on the radio, requested assistance, secured the inmates on the bus, and then approached the scene. Officer Frates approached the gunman who was firing shots at the car, as three other suspects ran and disappeared around the building. After Officer Frates squared off with the gunman, the gunman ran in front of the office building and into the woods. Officer Frates then secured the scene and rendered aid to the gunshot victim in the car. Officer Frates knowingly and willingly placed himself in harm's way to stop a crime and save a life. He took charge in a life threatening situation and earned the respect and admiration of supervisors and co-workers alike.
The Gold Medal of Valor, the highest award for bravery and heroism, is awarded in cases in which the public safety official/unit knowingly placed his/her/their life/lives in peril of death or serious bodily harm while saving or attempting to save the lives of others. The Gold Medal of Valor was awarded to Gwinnett County Firefighter II Scott Robertson. September 21, 2009 will forever be known as the day of the Great Flood of 2009 in Georgia. For some, it will be a day forever known for one man's courage, bravery, and selfless acts. One such story from the floods, that thankfully has a happy ending, is that of Gwinnett County citizen Diana Farmer and Gwinnett County, Firefighter II Scott Robertson. On the morning of September 21, Diana encountered waters rising quickly and escaped to the roof of her car for safety. Diana had been stranded for 30 minutes prior to the arrival of three fire fighters from the Swiftwater Rescue Team and was doubtful a successful rescue would be made. Positioned down river from his two other team mates who were unsuccessful in launching a rescue boat, Robertson noticed the victim had let go of her vehicle. Robertson entered the treacherous water, and after several life-defying moments, Robertson and the victim were pulled to shore by safety personnel. Diana, the victim who attended the Valor Awards to personally thank Robertson, said that she realizes that Robertson's actions go far beyond saving her life. She credits him as being a "remarkable, courageous person risking his life not for someone he knew, but for a total stranger."
"It is because of the heroic and courageous efforts of Gwinnett's public safety professionals that we are able to live, work and play in a safe community," concluded Demming Bass, vice president of communications and public policy, Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.
About the Gwinnett Chamber
Named one of the top three metro chambers in the United States by ACCE, the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce's membership varies from FORTUNE 1,000 companies to innovative startups, and stretches across the Atlanta region, from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to UGA in Athens. Representing more than 7,200 members from more than 2,500 firms, the Gwinnett Chamber is the Southeast's 6th largest chamber and focuses on creating and growing quality job opportunities while enhancing the community's quality of life.