By Carla Branch
On Thursday, April 30, the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce held the 23rd Annual Valor Awards luncheon, recognizing fire, police and sheriff’s personnel who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to serve Alexandria.
This year, the Chamber honored 15 members of the City’s public safety departments. Jane Watrel, general assignment reporter for NBC4, narrated the awards.
“These men and women, and in fact all public safety personnel, even those not receiving awards today, provide an invaluable service that contributes to the wonderful quality of life we enjoy here in Alexandria,” said Cathy Puskar, Chairman of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce.
“Our area has dealt with many situations over the last several years from the terrifying events of 9/11 and the sniper attacks, to damaging tornadoes and most recently the largest Presidential Inauguration in history that required elevated security and protection. With these challenges, I take great comfort in knowing that Alexandria is prepared to handle any crisis, thanks to the combined efforts of the Police Department, Fire Department and Sheriff’s Office. They truly work together to ensure safety for our community,” Puskar said.
Officer Kyle Russel received a Silver Medal of Valor, and Officer Aaron Fisher , a Bronze Medal of Valor, for heroism. On Sept. 23, 2008, Russel was working his shift as usual. For the past four weeks, he had been training Fisher, a recent graduate of the Alexandria Police Department’s Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Academy.
At around 8:00 p.m., Russel and Fisher were a few miles south of the Glebe Road exits on Interstate 395 when they noticed a sport-utility vehicle driving erratically. The officers followed the vehicle using lights and siren, attempting to pull it over. They watched as the SUV drove aggressively, swerving across all lanes of traffic before finally pulling over. Fisher notified dispatch that he and Russel were making a traffic stop with a possible intoxicated driver. Russel exited the patrol car first and approached the SUV from the passenger side. He looked in the car and noticed blood on the driver’s face .
“Are you okay?” Russel asked the driver.
The driver then pulled out a .45 caliber hand gun and shot Russel in the middle of his chest. Russel felt as if he had been hit by a sledgehammer. He took cover behind a guardrail and prepared to return fire. Fisher called for assistance over his radio, and, fearing additional gunfire, took cover behind the SUV. Moments later, the driver in the SUV sped away.
“I’ve been shot. I’m okay. I think the vest got it,” Russel reported on his radio.
Fisher then radioed in the model and color of the suspects vehicle, as well as their present location. Russel and Fisher were about to join in the pursuit, but before they could get into their vehicle, Officer Joshua Leach arrived and insisted on examining Russel’s injuries. The bullet had penetrated all the layers of Russel’s vest. He suffered massive trauma to his chest and was bleeding badly. An ambulance arrived moments later and transported Russel to a local hospital.
The driver of the vehicle continued north on I-395 before shooting himself in the head and crashing into a guardrail near the 14th Street Bridge. It was later learned that the driver of the SUV had killed his wife in their Arlington apartment earlier that evening.
Officer Jeetpal Panesar received a Bronze Medal of Valor. On February 2, Panesar responded to a two-car crash in the 4600 block of Duke Street. Panesar was not dispatched to the crash, but volunteered to go to the scene. The first officer to arrive at the scene, Panesar saw one vehicle overturned and smoking. The driver of the other vehicle was covered in blood and walked toward him. Panesar determined that, despite his appearance, the driver was fine.
Panesar ran toward the overturned car and saw the driver strapped in her seat looking dazed. He also noticed a small child struggling to get free, tightening the seat belt around her throat with her movements. Unable to open the car door, Panesar smashed the window to get to the child, getting shards of glass in his eyes. Unable to undo the child’s seatbelt with his bare hands, Panesar cut through the seatbelt with a knife and caught the child as she fell. He then noticed another child in the car and was able to get her out of her seat without difficulty.
Panesar handed the children to other officers who arrived on the scene and then ran back to the overturned vehicle to check on the driver. Medics arrived and rushed to the woman’s aide. The children were taken to Inova Alexandria Hospital. Pediatric staff confirmed that the Panesar’s quick response saved the trapped child’s life. Panesar was treated at the scene for his injuries.
Alexandria Fire Department Medics Michael Gerber and Keith Joachem received the Lifesaving Award. On Aug. 9, 2008, Gerber and Joachem were dispatched to Fairfax County to assist a person experiencing chest pains. When they arrived, they found a 49-year-old woman receiving oxygen from Fairfax County medics.
The patient told the medics she had been experiencing chest pains all day. The Medics were then told that the she had been given medication earlier in the day for a gastrointestinal disorder, not for a heart condition. In spite of conflicting information, Gerber and Joachem determined the patient should be connected to the electro cardio gram monitor. They also established an intravenous line. As the patient was being connected to the ECG monitor, she complained of dizziness and experienced nausea. She then lost consciousness, appeared to have difficulty breathing and had no measurable pulse.
The initial ECG confirmed an abnormal heart rhythm. The patient was defibrillated, began breathing and her pulse returned. She regained consciousness, was alert and oriented and said that she no longer suffered from chest pain. But her blood pressure remained elevated and her ECG showed significant abnormalities. The medics administered post-cardiac medication and transported her to Inova Alexandria Hospital.
Alexandria Police Officer Tim Kyburz won the Lifesaving Award for putting himself at risk to ensure the safety of others. On May 8, 2008, Kyburz and his wife were at their home in Stafford County when a violent storm engulfed the neighborhood in rain, wind and thunder. The family’s weather-alert radio sounded a tornado warning. The Kyburzs rushed the entire family to the basement.
Since it was after 11:00 p.m., the couple knew their neighbors were probably asleep. Mrs. Kyburz called neighbors to warn of the impending tornado. Kyburz heard what sounded like the rumble of a train approaching. Within seconds, the tornado tore through the neighborhood. Without hesitation, Kyburz donned a Police vest and went to the assistance of his neighbors.
The tornado ripped through the Kyburz’s neighborhood causing severe damage. The Kyburz’s home sustained the most damage and was later deemed uninhabitable.
Alexandria Fire Department Medics Don Scott, Tracey Eichelberger and Joshua Weissman received the Lifesaving Award. On June 2, 2008, the three medics were dispatched for a seizure call in Fairfax County. The Alexandria crew arrived and found Fairfax County medics attending to a 20-month-old male, who was having a seizure. Although the parents of the child did not speak English, the medics were able to interpret that the young boy had been running a fever all day. They also found that the infant had only wet three diapers the previous day and wet none the day of the call.
The medics made several attempts to start an intravenous line without success. The patient’s prolonged seizure was increasing the possibility of brain damage. The medics then administered a needle that goes directly into the bone. Due to the child’s poor vascular state, the I-V access could not be obtained.
Because of the pain involved in the procedure, administering a needle into bone is usually performed on an unconscious patient. But the medics had to act quickly. The seizures subsided and the child was transported to Inova Alexandria Hospital.
Alexandria Fire Department Emergency Communications Technician Mary Ursitti received the Lifesaving Certificate. On the afternoon of April 17, 2008, Ursitti received a 911 Emergency call from a female stating that her friend was lying on the couch, unresponsive and was not breathing.
After collecting the pertinent incident information so that Fire-EMS units could be directed to the location, Ursitti instructed the caller to attempt to locate the person’s pulse. When the caller could not feel a pulse, she started to cry and said she thought her friend was dead. Ursitti encouraged the caller to move her friend to the floor and attempt CPR until Medics arrived.
But instead, the caller became hysterical, stating that her friend was too large to be moved. Ursiti’s ability to calm the caller and give specific instructions for the initial CPR led to the woman’s life being saved.
Deputy Sheriffs Larry Richardson, Ricky Hart, Jr. and Christopher O’Dell received commendation for their lifesaving efforts. On the early morning of Jan. 23, 2008, Richardson was making a routine check of the Inmate Receiving Center. As he approached one of the cells, he noticed an inmate who was barely breathing. Richardson yelled in an attempt to provoke a response, but the inmate did not respond. He called medical help.
He entered the cell where he was joined by Booking Deputy O’Dell. The deputies splashed water on the inmate’s upper body. There was no response. O’Dell then used one of the jail’s Automatic Electronic Defibrillators on the inmate. He applied the defibrillator pads a second and third time with no success. O’Dell, with the aid of Deputies Hart and Richardson began CPR. The inmate began breathing on his own. The efforts of O’Dell, Richardson, and Hart continued until Medics arrived.
Deputy Sheriffs Scott Petrini and Gerald Resseguie were recognized for their life saving efforts. On the afternoon of Sept. 4, 2008 two inmates were involved in a physical altercation at the Alexandria Detention Center. One of these inmates was moved to another cell to prevent further altercations.
After arriving at his new cell, the inmate covered the cell camera so that the deputies could not monitor him. Resseguie and Petrini conducted extra checks on the inmate to ensure that he did not harm himself. On one of these inspections, Resseguie found that the inmate had hung himself with own shirt. The inmate appeared to be unresponsive and not breathing.
The deputies untied the inmate and put him on his bunk. Petrini monitored the inmate to ensure he was not going to be combative, if he should regain consciousness. The inmate gradually became responsive. If Resseguie and Petrini had not conducted the extra security checks, the outcome of this situation could have been fatal.