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Answering the Call of Duty in Dangerous Places

Awards to Honor Courageous Acts

By Jamie Stockwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 7, 2005; Page VA03

Scanning the Potomac River, high-powered flashlights illuminating the murky, cold water, three Alexandria firefighters searched for wreckage. A helicopter had reportedly dropped from the sky, and yet the Potomac was eerily silent and still.

"The first sight of debris was actually construction, but then we smelled jet fuel, and so we aimed the boat in that direction," Capt. Rodney Masser, commander of the fire department's Marine Operations Team, said of the Jan. 10 incident, in which a medical helicopter crashed near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

The team followed a fuel slick, Masser said, and moments later came upon the crushed and torn aircraft. No one could have survived this, Masser said he thought to himself as they slowly made their way to the wreckage.

But clinging to the helicopter's tail was Jonathan Godfrey, a 36-year-old flight nurse who was returning with two others to their base in Stafford County.

"Rescue mode kicked in when we saw we had a survivor," Masser said in a telephone interview last week. "We knew he was probably seriously injured and that we had to act quickly or we might lose him."

They did not lose him. Godfrey was treated for a broken sternum, ribs and humerus -- the bone that extends from the shoulder to the elbow -- and is now at home recuperating with his family.

Because of the quick-thinking and lifesaving actions of Masser and his two-member team -- firefighters Kristina Earley and Thomas Wheatley -- the trio will be honored at the 19th annual Public Safety Valor Awards luncheon, scheduled to take place at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center next Thursday.

Because she jumped into the 39-degree water and physically rescued Godfrey, Earley will receive a gold medal of valor. Masser and Wheatley will receive silver medals at the ceremony, hosted by the city's Chamber of Commerce.

Gold medals will also be presented to Alexandria police officers Brian M. Fromm, an eight-year member of the department who was attacked with pepper spray by a suspect sought for a domestic disturbance; Francis R. Powers, a 14-year member of the department who helped disarm a suicidal man who threatened to kill himself in the parking lot of a McDonald's last April, and Steven Pagach, a seven-year member who worked as Powers's partner in the incident.

Officers Todd E. Branson, Tara L. May, Kevin T. Jobe and Richard M. Harrell earned silver medals for their actions in two separate incidents -- the apprehension by Branson of a homicide suspect in Old Town last fall, and the quelling by May, Jobe and Harrell of a domestic disturbance sparked by a knife-wielding man.

Bronze medals were earned by officers Charles L. Seckler and Mark C. Morgan.

Officers Kevin L. Thomas, Lorenzo F. Hardy, Terence G. Bridges and Monica L. Lisle will be presented with certificates of valor. And Officer Jennifer L. Mogford will be presented with a lifesaving award for her help in calming and disarming a suicidal man.

Several Alexandria sheriff's deputies also are scheduled to receive awards at the ceremony. Bronze medals will go to deputies Delnice Molaski and Deborah Vaughan; lifesaving awards will go to Sgt. James Terry and Deputy Scott Petrini. Deputy Anthony Calhoun will receive a certificate of valor.

In Arlington County, 25 police officers, firefighters and sheriff's deputies were honored for their courage at the 23rd annual Valor Awards luncheon, held March 29 at the Fort Myer Officers' Club.

From the Police Department, lifesaving awards were presented to Lt. Donald Grinder, Sgt. Michael Watson, Officer Luke Haglof and Detectives Dave Clenance and Rick Schoembs for their actions at a Crystal City hotel last August, where a man was threatening to jump from the 40-foot-high roof. The officers calmed him down and carried him to safety.

Detective Kevin White received a meritorious service award for his role in a two-year investigation in which six men eventually pleaded guilty to embezzling money from senior citizens.

Sheriff's deputies Melinda Johnson and Kevatte Jones each received a lifesaving award. Deputy Christopher Hogan was presented a meritorious service award.

And in the county's Fire Department, Capt. Gilbert Cook received a meritorious service award.

Lifesaving awards were presented to Capts. Joseph Lightfoot, Charles Gibbs and James Moore. Firefighters Michael Little, Kervin Maske, Justin Nelson, Adam Sampillar, Luke McCarthy, Bosephus Bennett, Todd Lewis, Gerry Hanson, Stephen Sharpe, Patricio Rogers, Sean Spencer and James K. Matthews received the same award for their roles in bringing to safety several county residents, including an elderly woman who was trapped inside a retirement home that caught fire.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company