They are best of friends in a quiet way, the police officer and the little girl. They met seven years ago when Steven O'Dell saw a house on fire, ran inside and found Adrianne Flowers lying in a smoke-filled room.

On that day he breathed life into Adrianne and two other small children as he waited for an ambulance.

Adrianne, the most severely injured of the three, was not expected to live. Her left leg was burned to the tendon, three fingertips were gone and her face and head were badly charred.

O'Dell said he couldn't get the image of the little girl with the burned face out of his mind. When Pam Flowers called to thank him for saving her daughter's life, he readily accepted an invitation to visit.

That was the beginning of a tender friendship that has lasted through years of operations for Adrianne and personal tragedy for O'Dell, who saw a partner die.

"Here comes Steve," Adrianne yelled when she spotted O'Dell wearing the blue jumpsuit of the D.C. police aviation unit and walking toward her apartment building this week. She ran out the front door, throwing herself into his arms.

"Hi, Squirt," he said, hugging both Adrianne, 8, and her sister Jamie, 6.

The visits aren't frequent, maybe three or four a year, but as old friends will do, the conversation picks up from last time. There is news about school and good attendance certificates. Pam Flowers brings out snapshots made during the summer of her two daughters posing with O'Dell by his helicopter. Adrianne is wearing a blue police T-shirt.

O'Dell has seen a lot of injured children and adults during his 19 years of police work in Washington. Most often he does what he can at the moment and then there is another call to answer. In the rush of daily events, there is no time to dwell on individual tragedy.

But Adrianne was different.

"She is love personified," O'Dell said. "Here is this little girl who has been dealt the worst possible hand. Her face is burned. Other kids pick on her. And yet she has the sweetest disposition."

Adrianne seemed very much the typical second-grader, eager to show off her dancing ability and her proficiency in math. This week she stood proudly in front of her mother and O'Dell, singing two full verses of "Frosty the Snowman," as she will do next month for the school Christmas program.

"And, I may be a cheerleader," she said breathlessly at the conclusion of her song. "I try out next week."

Flowers says her daughter never speaks of her injuries. The operations are behind her. Doctors have done the best they can do now. When she turns 15 or 16, additional skin grafts might be possible.

O'Dell said Adrianne had confided in him once that other children teased her about her appearance.

"She told me some other kids had made some comments about the burns," he said. "We talked about being a good person and believing in yourself. Basically I told her she was okay."

O'Dell, 40, had to work though some of the same doubts about himself when he returned to work a year after the death of his partner, Kevin Welsh, who drowned in 1986 trying to save a woman who had jumped into the Anacostia River. Instead of returning to the emergency response team, he requested assignment to the helicopter branch.

"I know some officers and officials wondered if I'd be able to do the work," he said. "Some had their doubts that I could function in a water rescue because of what happened to Kevin."

Earlier this year, O'Dell dove from a helicopter into the Potomac River to rescue a man.

"I had prepared myself a thousand times in my mind, so I felt sure I could do it," he said. "We did save that guy's life. It made me feel better to show them I was functional, that they could count on me."

But O'Dell doesn't like to focus on himself. He says Adrianne is "my hero. She is one beautiful little person."

Adrianne, in turn, calls O'Dell "my friend."

Last week, the little girl laughed, throwing back her head and squealing with delight as the man in the police uniform held her tight and twirled her around the room.

For a moment, there were no scars, no pain and no bad memories for either of them.