When a fire engulfed the Layton Hall apartment complex in Fairfax City last September, Police Officer David M. Tucker and firefighter Lt. Charles E. Kerns were among the first of the city's rescue units to arrive at the scene.
Tucker's attention was immediately drawn to 66-year-old Mary Hopkins, who was trapped on the balcony outside her third-floor apartment and had started to panic as she watched the fire climb the building wall and spread toward her.
Tucker, a 2 1/2-year veteran of the city's police force, scaled the burning apartment building to Hopkins's balcony and stayed with the woman until they were rescued by firefighters. "She wanted to jump off the balcony," Tucker said. "So I told her to relax; everything would be okay."
At the same time, Kerns was notified that a man was trapped inside the apartment where the fire had started. Kerns ran into the burning unit, grabbed Charles P. Smith and dragged the unconscious man out of the apartment. Smith was flown to Fairfax Hospital, where he was treated for burns and smoke inhalation.
"I knew I had to get that party out or he would soon be a fatality. I just had to give it my best shot," Kerns said.
Because of the courage displayed in these two incidents, Tucker and Kerns have been recognized as 1985 police officer and firefighter of the year, respectively, by the Central Fairfax Chamber of Commerce. The two men were honored last month at the Chamber's fourth annual public safety awards dinner.
Tucker was also cited for saving the life of a potential suicide victim three months before the apartment complex fire.
Sandra Stallman, executive vice president of the 350-member local business group, said it was easy for the award selection committee to choose this year's recipients.
"There was very little to decide. In the past, it was difficult to select the winners, with no major crimes or fires in the city," Stallman said. "But because of the outstanding nature of the two that participated in the Layton Hall fire, this year that was not the case."
Tucker's earlier lifesaving action involved a 40-year-old Arlington woman who swallowed a large number of prescription pills and drank a bottle of champagne in an attempt to kill herself.
"She had called the station to tell her story before she died," said Tucker, who serves on the city's hostage negotiating team and was working overtime at the communications desk that night. "So, I built up a rapport with her and kept her on the telephone for 45 minutes . . . until C&P located the address of the phone call," he said. "She was on her way out the front door to the Potomac River as the Arlington County rescue squad arrived."
Tucker, 29, also served three years with the George Mason University campus police. He lives in Woodbridge with his wife Wanda and two children, a 4-year-old and a 6-month-old.
Kerns, 43, is an eight-year veteran of the city's firefighter squad and lives in Winchester with his wife Georgianna, and three children, ages 22, 16 and 15.