Last Aug. 11, 74-year-old Geraldine Lenvin did the New York Times crossword puzzle and went to sleep at 11:30 in the rear bedroom of her two-story house on North 26th Street in Arlington. Hours later, she woke to the sound of an explosion and found herself crouched in a tiny space, surrounded by small fires and trapped by the debris of her house, which had collapsed.
"I was sure I was going to die," Lenvin recalled this week. After nearly an hour, she said, a hand reached toward her through the rubble. It belonged to firefighter Edward M. Hannon.
"When he gave me his hand, it was the Rock of Gibraltar," Lenvin said Tuesday, after she had draped a medal around Hannon's neck and planted a kiss on his cheek.
Hannon, two other firefighters who helped rescue Lenvin and three police officers received medals and plaques honoring their bravery from the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.
After the brief awards ceremony, Lt. Donald M. Keys of the fire department clutched his plaque in one hand and a handkerchief in the other, dabbing tears from his eyes. "I was so exhilarated that Lenvin lived," he said. "It was an act of God that we found her."
"I was so keyed up," said Capt. William O. Moose, who also was honored for his role in the rescue.
At one point, Lenvin recalled, a gust of gas and heat seemed to rush through the area where she was trapped. "I said to the [firefighters], 'I am old. You have families. Get out of here.' " And she remembers the reply, from a firefighter she could hear but not see: "Not without you, Gerry."
Numerous officials from the police and fire departments, as well as the county government, attended the ceremony, held in the officers club at Fort Myer.
One of the police recipients was agent Stephen Gunzenhauser. He was off duty last June 7 when he discovered a woman floating face down in the C & O Canal. He yanked off his shoes and shirt, jumped into the water and began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The woman lived.
The other police officers recognized were Donald E. Walport Jr. and Joseph J. Conahan. The two entered Quincy's restaurant on Columbia Pike in the midst of an early morning robbery Dec. 24 and arrested a man armed with a .357 magnum.
More than $2,800 had been stolen from the restaurant, and the telephones had been ripped from the walls.
"I tend to hear a lot of bad news," said Fire Chief Thomas M. Hawkins, who, along with Lenvin, gave the firefighters their awards. "We tend to forget that there are a lot of heroic, generous and unbelievable acts performed in our community."