The sworn duty of Arlington's 308 police officers and 255 professional firefighters is to protect the life, limb and property of others. At a banquet this week, the Arlington County Chamber of Commerce gave valor awards to two officers and a firefighter who went beyond the call of duty, risking their lives in the process.

One of the honorees, police Agent Steven J. DePrenda, received his second annual chamber valor award for stopping a hit-and-run driver who was going 40 mph in the wrong direction against rush-hour traffic on Interstate 395. The driver, who was drunk, had passed out at the wheel. DePrenda positioned his police car in the path of the motorist, colliding with him head-on.

DePrenda, 42, earned a sprained back for his trouble and, he said, "a few choice words" from his wife, but also may have saved the lives of others. The drunk driver was uninjured.

"I would expect an officer to do what DePrenda did, which is to get that driver off the roadway," said Police Chief William K. Stover, who made nominations for the awards. However, Stover said, DePrenda carried this expectation one step further.

"He could have . . . notified the dispatcher and have other units set up a roadblock. But in the interim, {the driver} could have hurt someone else."

DePrenda, who has been with the force for 20 years, said, "I looked in the rear view mirror and saw all the cars and thought, 'this is not good,' so I figured I had to stop him.".

Like DePrenda, police Cpl. Carl R. Childress and Fire Batallion Aide John Franklin risked their lives in the line of duty.

After arriving first on the scene of a fire at an apartment building one morning last year, Childress crawled through a burning seventh-floor apartment in search of a tenant who, it was feared, was trapped inside. He did not leave the building until he was satisfied that she was not there.

Meanwhile, he used a portable radio to direct emergency personnel to the site and started the evacuation of other endangered tenants.

He was later treated for smoke inhalation at National Hospital for Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation.

"I didn't think about walking into a burning room, I just did it," said Childress, 44. The 17-year police veteran praised firefighters. "They spend a lot of time in the {fire}house, but when they work, they work real hard."

Franklin, 40, saved a fellow firefighter who was trapped in the basement of a burning house on Fairfax Drive. Figuring that the only viable way for escape was through a boarded-up garage door rather than through windows, Franklin organized firefighters to break it down. Under his direction, the trapped firefighter was rescued.

Franklin, who has battled county fires for 18 years, said he was just doing his duty. "It was something that just had to be done. It was something we did."

Fire Chief Thomas M. Hawkins Jr. said Franklin's snap decision saved valuable time. "If we'd had to regroup and organize a search, it probably would have been two or three minutes. His decision, being very timely, saved us from having to do that."

Finally, the chamber's first annual award for meritorious service was bestowed posthumously on Deputy Police Chief David Lee Reiten. Reiten served on the police force for 23 years, including the past three years as deputy chief in charge of operations, until he died of cancer two months ago.

"Dave led by example . . . . His enthusiasm for life and his professional energies were renowned throughout the law enforcement community," Stover wrote in a nomination letter to the chamber. "It is with profound sadness and pride that I posthumously nominate David Lee Reiten."

Reiten continued working despite his illness until the month before his death.