It was one of the most dramatic "apprehensions" a police officer is likely to make.

Montgomery County policeman Fred H. Helton had climbed onto the roof of a six-story office building in Rockville, where a woman who was a mental patient had been spotted. Seeing him, the woman dashed for the edge, but Helton caught her.

She wiggled free, and leaped over the parapet, but the 24-year-old policeman clutched her arms as her legs dangled in space. Then he found the strength to haul her back up.

"My knees weren't shaking until it was all over," said Helton, who was honored with a silver medal for bravery at the sixth annual Police and Fire-Rescue Service awards luncheon this week.

Helton was one of eight men honored for acts of courage at the annual fete, which was sponsored by the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce.

More than 600 people, including high-ranking officials in other metropolitan area police and fire departments, gathered at the Indian Springs Country Club in Wheaton to swirl ice on the veranda, slice roast beef in the gargantuan dining room and pile plaudits on the doers of great deeds.

For politicians, the large turnout of police and fire department brass made a felicitous opportunity to hail the excellence of the county's public safety departments but in the main, the laurels and the expressions of pride went to men.

"Your willingness to go far beyond what anyone could reasonably expect is a staggering and heart-warming fact of life," declared County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist.

The silver medal given to Helton for bravery involving "great personal risk" was the highest medal awarded. No gold for "extreme" personal risk has been given for two years.

James Kenneth Franke, a lieutenant in the Kensington Volunteer Fire Department, was draped with the bronze medal for "unusual" personal risk in dragging an unconscious victim from a burning apartment last December.

Frank got to the Aspen Hill fire first and without any equipment, raced into the intensely heated, smoke-filled apartment without any equipment to make the rescue. He was helped by Walter E. Webb, who won an honorable mention for his part in the rescue. The two firefighters pulled the apartment's occupant, who was not breathing, out of the building and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation. With the help of medics, who arrived on the scene, Franke and Webb revived the badly burned victim.

Other honorable mentions for heroic acts were bestowed on Scott Gorton of the Bethesda Chevy Chase Rescue Squad, Charles Lake, William P. Sullivan, Kenneth P. Musgrave, and Robert C. K. Howell, all of the Montgomery County Police.

Gorton was instrumental in rescuing Tom and John Dunne, whose canoe capsized in a West Virginia river during a Boy Scout outing last May.

On his way to work last Sept. 10, Lake saw flames around gas pumps at a service station on Georgia Avenue in Montgomery County. He stopped, grabbed a fire extinguisher and hosed the flames, keeping the fire in check until the fire department arrived.

Sullivan was honored for rescuing, with the help of a passing motorist, two men who were trapped unconscious, in a burning car. Musgrave was cited for his actions in subduing a man with a knife, after the officer was called to the scene of a "family fight" in a Silver Spring apartment building. Howell received his award for spotting and arresting four men who were breaking into a Silver Spring service station. Howell was alone and off-duty when he apprehended the men.

The selections were made by Police Chief Bernard Crooke and Fire Chief Warren Isman, and three others.

Although there is no criteria per se, and the line between heroism and foolhardiness is fine, it wasn't hard for the selection committee to spot the candidates who went above and beyond their duty.

"There's just a gut feeling," said chief Isman.