Gwinnett's Public Safety Professionals Receive Top Honors for Bravery at March 25 Ceremony
Duluth, GA- To recognize Gwinnett's public safety professionals for helping to strengthen our community, the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and Presenting Sponsors Mobile Communications of Gwinnett and Motorola presented the sixth annual Valor Awards on March 25, 2011 at 11:30 a.m. at the Atlanta Marriott – Gwinnett Place. The keynote speaker at the event was Atlanta Fire Rescue Chief Kelvin Cochran.
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.
"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," said Abby Wilkerson, program manager, Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.
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. Battalion Chief Eddie Myers' Gwinnett Fire FLAME Program was awarded the Medal of Merit. Firefighters Lunch and Mentoring Experience (FLAME) is a successful mentoring program started by Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services' Battalion Chief Eddie Myers. His vision was to have firefighters spend their lunchtime weekly with a youth who needs an adult who will take special interest in their development. The firefighters are a friend, a guide and a support to at-risk youth. Since the program's inception in early 2009, 30 elementary schools across Gwinnett have benefited from their relationship with their firefighter mentor. Most importantly, FLAME participants have consistently exhibited dramatic improvement in school attendance and personal development, including bolstered self-esteem and sense of discipline.
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 was awarded to Gwinnett County Firefighter Dan Rimmer. In December of 2010, Rimmer was off duty and participating in a local 5k run. A race participant had just completed the run when he collapsed. Rimmer quickly rushed to the man's side and immediately ordered the activation of EMS and called for an automatic external defibrillator (AED). By the time the medic unit had arrived on scene the patient experienced a return of spontaneous pulse and respirations from the CPR and shock administered by Rimmer. Due to the quick response and smart judgment and decision, paired with the good sense of the local church to have purchased an AED, the patient is alive and well today.
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 Officers Lauren Sullins and Daphne Vernold. On February 1, 2010, Lauren received a phone call from a female who was crying and stated that she had a gun and wanted to commit suicide. When Lauren asked the female for her location, she stated that she didn't know where she was located. For over an hour Lauren remained in contact with the female through dropped phone calls, long silences and many emotions eventually getting the female to reveal that she was in a restroom at Lake Lanier near Cumming. Not only did Lauren, remain in contact with the female, she also kept the female from harming herself or anyone else with the gun. With the assistance of Communications Officer Daphne Vernold, the female's subscriber information was obtained from the cell phone company and officers from Hall and Forsyth County were contacted. With Lauren's perseverance and determination to locate the female caller and with Daphne's assistance, the female was located and the situation was safely resolved.
The Public Safety Person of the Year was given to Detective Dennis Hennelly and Sergeant Edward Restrepo with the Gwinnett County Police (Criminal Investigations). Detective Hennelly and Sergeant Restrepo were the first police officers to respond to a fatal shooting of a 13 year old boy at a Lawrenceville apartment complex. Detectives and crime scene personnel located very little evidence at the crime scene; however, Detective Hennelly and Sergeant Restrepo were determined to pursue any and all leads. After deciding to focus their attention on residents of one particular unit in the apartment complex who had multiple run-ins with the law, the officers began to listen to hour after hour of jail phone calls whenever any of the friends or associates of that apartment unit were in custody. Through these phone calls, the officers learned of a very large drug dealing inside Gwinnett County and obtained a confession from the shooter. This was a case that could have easily gone unsolved had it not been for the persistence and tenacity of Detective Hennelly and Sergeant Restrepo. Both officers are to be commended for the work they did on this case and the outstanding work they do each and every day.
The Public Safety Unit of the Year Award was given to the Gwinnett County Sheriff Department's Sex Offender Registry. The Sex Offender Registry Unit consists of Lt. Jeremy Brown, Sergeant Michael Oakes, Corporal Sheila Thomas, and Deputy Bobby Chapman, and one civilian employee, Casey Duffield, who handles the majority of the administrative duties. These five employees of the Gwinnett County Sheriff Department are responsible for enforcing the Sex Offender Registry laws in Gwinnett County. Those assigned to this unit must become an expert at answering questions about the law, and be able to discuss it in laymen's terms with the public. In addition, the sex offender laws in Georgia are very complex and are constantly changing requiring the deputies to learn new procedures on a constant basis. Their hard work and dedication keeps the citizens of Gwinnett County safer and more informed than they otherwise would be from child predators and sexually violent offenders.
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 J. Bailey and Officer D. Mitchem with the Gwinnett County Police (South Precinct). On July 12, 2010, Officers Bailey and Mitchem responded to a residential fire on Stone Mountain Hwy. The officers arrived to the house that was consumed by heavy smoke and large flames before the Gwinnett County Fire Department. The homeowner advised the officers that her husband was still trapped inside the house and was unable to escape because he was disabled. The officers made the decision to enter the house to rescue the disabled and elderly man. After locating the elderly man sitting in a chair, the officers pulled him to safety. By the time the officers reached the porch, it was on fire and the victim had to be taken to the yard for safety. The officers made it out safely just at the roof started to collapse. Officer Bailey and Mitchem's valiant display of teamwork saved a man's life and are to be commended for their bravery, professionalism and willingness to go above the call of duty.
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 Master Patrolman Bobby Johnson with the Duluth Police Department. On Saturday, November 20, 2010, officers were dispatched to a call of domestic dispute from a caller who heard yelling and glass breaking from a nearby residence. Several officers rushed to the scene, although nothing could have prepared them for what they saw next or the danger they were about to be in. As Officers Baker, Parrish and Johnson approached the house, they noticed thick smoke billowing from the windows and a distraught man holding a limp woman in his arms in the front lawn. The officers also saw two small children in the front yard, unharmed and unaware of the gravity of this situation. When the officers asked the man if there was anyone in the house, the husband frantically said his 10-month old boy was still inside. As the fire department had not yet arrived, the officers quickly sprung into action first approaching the front door which proved impassable which led them to the side of the house where Officers Baker and Johnson climbed on a very small ledge discovering the baby through a window. Officers Parrish and Baker were able to hold Officer Johnson up to the window to reach through the smoke and grab the baby. After rescuing the lifeless baby that Officer Johnson described as being hot to the touch and covered in soot, Officer Baker began giving the baby chest compressions and continued to do so in the ambulance that awaited them. Sadly, the baby lost his battle against the fire and smoke.
"Officers aren't expected to fight fires or pull people out of burning building. They don't have the equipment, training or experience to deal with it," said Duluth Police Department Lt. Jackie Hood who nominated Officer Johnson. "These officers went above and beyond the call of duty, without regard for their personal safety to save a small baby's life. For that, they make us proud. For that we call them heroes."