From Lenny Skutnik's daring leap into the icy Potomac to save a survivor of the Air Florida crash last January, to a Fairfax County policeman's rooftop rescue of a 13-year-old earlier this month, Northern Virginia has had its share of heroes in 1982.
Many of them have gone unnoticed--a case of a police officer or firefighter "just doing his job," or a co-worker performing CPR on a stricken friend. And much of the bravery was overshadowed by tragedy: the woman Skutnik pulled from the river on Jan. 13 lost her husband and infant son in the crash that claimed 76 other lives, while the young girl pulled from the burning duplex by the policeman died of her burns two days later.
Even so, at least a half-dozen Northern Virginians, whose stories have been culled from police, fire, and rescue squad reports, have performed heroic acts this year. And while some, such as Skutnik's, were spectacular, others, like that of John S. Ferina, may have received less attention but were heroic nonetheless:
John S. Ferina: On Feb. 3, when a fellow worker at the Naval Air Systems Command in Arlington dropped to the floor, his face turning "a deep purple color," Ferina sprang into action with lifesaving skills he had learned nearly a year earlier.
"We were all sitting around at a quarter to seven in the morning, before work started, when I heard this commotion right outside my cubicle," said Ferina, 54, a civilian program analyst at the Navy's Crystal City complex. When he looked to see what had happened, he found James A. Jahn, a fellow employe, lying on the floor, having suffered a massive heart attack.
Ferina quickly started administering the cardiopulmonary resuscitation he learned in an office-sponsored course a year earlier.
"I had forgotten everything I'd been taught, but it didn't make any damn difference. I did what I had to do," said Ferina, who lives in Falls Church.
Jahn was unconscious and had stopped breathing, but Ferina revived him with mouth-to-mouth breathing and heart massage before an ambulance team arrived. For his actions, he received the American Red Cross Certificate of Merit, the highest award the national organization gives for lifesaving. Signed by President Reagan, the award cited Ferina for exemplifying "the highest ideal of the concern of one human being for another who is distress."
"I don't feel I needed a pat on the back or anything," Ferina said. "I was there and could help, so I did."
William Roberts: On the night of March 5, Roberts, a 13-year veteran of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, answered an alarm for a man who apparently had been electrocuted on a utility pole in Reston's Baron Cameron Park.
Roberts, 36, and his fellow firefighters found Phil Zitzmann, 29, dangling by his safety harness about 20 feet off the ground.
"I was up the ladder about the time it touched the ground," recalled Roberts, a Sterling Park resident who grew up in Herndon. Zitzmann, who reportedly had been practicing for an electrician's job, was alive, but the safety belt was cutting off his breathing, Roberts said.
"So I lifted him up with my back. He was talking to me," Roberts recalled. "I just locked my fingers around the pole, and held him up for 20 minutes or so. By the time it was over, my muscles were shaking."
Other firefighters freed Zitzmann, who officials later determined had come into contact with a 34,000-volt power line.
"I never even thought about the power lines above him," said Roberts, who said the incident almost was as nerve-racking as the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, where he won a Silver Star. "Mine was kind of a spontaneous reaction."
Zitzmann survived the accident, although his injuries still affect him. Roberts was nominated by his department for one of Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce's annual valor awards.
Michael Czekalski: Fairfax County Deputy Sheriff Czekalski graduated from the police academy on June 18. Seventeen days later, he saved a young girl's life.
On July 5, Czekalski, a Springfield resident, was driving home after work on Braddock Road when he saw a cluster of cars on the side of the highway. Thinking there had been an accident, Czekalski stopped and approached the group.
"A guy walked up with a little girl in in his arms, and she was turning blue," said Czekalski, 29. Adele Valentino, 10, of Fairfax Station, was choking on a piece of candy, and Czekalski began a series of stomach thrusts and back slaps to eject the candy.
"She had gone limp in my arms, and I wasn't thinking of anything--just trying to get the thing out of her throat," Czekalski said. He did, but only after several tries. Malcolm Bershadsky, a nurse who treated the girl at Commonwealth Hospital, praised the deputy for making "a rapid assessment of the situation.
"In my opinion, his actions were instrumental in her rapid return to breathing in good health," Bershadsky said in a letter to the sheriff's department.
Mary Ellen Andrews-Kulis: A piece of cauliflower cut off Rose Hassel's breathing on July 12, as the 83-year-old ate lunch at the Marywood Senior Apartments in Manassas. Fortunately, senior nutritionist Andrews-Kulis, five times certified in lifesaving, was nearby.
Andrews-Kulis, 29, was serving lunch to the elderly apartment residents when she heard cries of alarm in the cafeteria's dining area.
She rushed to Hassel, whose face was crimson, and started abdominal thrusts to eject the food from Hassel's windpipe. Her second attempt freed the food, but Hassel sucked it down again, said Andrews-Kulis, a Manassas resident. The third attempt was sucessful, she said.
"When something like this happens, you don't think that this person is going to die," Andrews-Kulis said. "There's no time to worry about failing.
"But afterwards you're shaking."
The American Red Cross awarded Andrews-Kulis, who now is a community development official for Prince William County, its certificate of merit last month for saving Hassel's life.
George M. Crabill: For two days in September, Alexandria police patrolman Crabill led a charmed life.
On Sept. 29, Crabill and his partner, Charles W. Lloyd, answered a fire alarm at an apartment building on South Fayette Street, where they were told by neighbors that people still were trapped inside the building.
Lloyd went to the first floor, while Crabill went to the second story, where he roused at least six sleeping occupants and led them down smoke-filled hallways to safety, police said.
The next day, just before noon, Crabill, a nine-year veteran of the city's force, rushed to a convenience store robbery on Duke Street, where two detectives were exchanging gunfire with what were believed at the time to be two armed robbers. One suspect shot both officers; Crabill, ignoring the possibility that the other still was in the area, gave first aid to officer William Mayfield, who was shot in the armpit.
"At first I couldn't see where the wound was, but when I found it, I had to put my fingers in the wound to cut off the bleeding," said Crabill, who was an Air Force medic during the Vietnam War. "The artery had been severed."
Police later determined that the suspect, who was fatally wounded by police, was the only robber in the incident. Crabill, a 31-year-old Alexandria native, received letters of commendation for his actions on both days, and a police association award for giving first aid after the robbery.
"Cops aren't brave, just foolish," joked Crabill, who was beaten and left for dead in 1977 when he discovered a warehouse robbery. "I didn't do all that much. We're sworn to protect life, limb and property. I was just doing my job."
Paul O'Keefe, a Fairfax County police patrolman for the past six years, says he is embarrassed by the attention he won earlier this month for pulling a teen-age girl out of a burning duplex in the Huntington area near Alexandria.
One of the first to arrive at the Dec. 5 fire on Arlington Terrace, O'Keefe tried crawling down a hallway to rescue two girls believed to be sleeping in a second-story bedroom. Forced back by the heat and smoke, O'Keefe dashed outside, and with the help of a neighbor, scrambled to a porch roof and knocked out the bedroom window with his nightstick.
"The smoke was so thick I just stuck my hand in and felt around," O'Keefe, 27, recalled last week. Feeling one girl's head, he pulled the youngster to the window, and held her there until county firefighters arrived.
Despite O'Keefe's action, the girl, Ojena R. Cowan, died from her burns two days later; her companion, another teen-age girl, died in the blaze.
"Some people have done so much more, and haven't been recognized," O'Keefe said. His department has nominated him for the Chamber of Commerce's valor award.