The four Montgomery County police officers rushed to the roof of the 24-story Willoughby condominium building in Friendship Heights. Teetering on the edge, just beyond a security fence, was a man who told them he had nothing to live for.
The man twisted a class ring from his finger, threw it to Officer Paul Sheng and leaned forward. With split-second timing, Sheng thrust his arm through the chain-link fence and grabbed the man just before he jumped.
Last Friday, Sheng and the three officers who helped him were awarded a silver medal, the year's top honor, for rescuing the man last May. They were recognized during an annual awards program for police and fire-rescue personnel sponsored by the Montgomery County Chamber-Workforce Corp.
"The incident has really stuck with me. It's something I recall very clearly," recalled Sheng, 30, of Germantown. "It was a team effort. It's very satisfying that the situation ended positively. It so easily could have gone the other way." Officers Curtis Jacobs, Stephen Matthews and Valentine Schiller shared the silver medal.
Twenty others also were honored for their work last year, from delivering a baby with a cord wrapped around its throat to uncovering the body of Michele Dorr, a Bethesda girl who had vanished without a trace 13 years before. The awards have been given for 26 years.
"These are the people who ensure we're safe, that our houses are secure. They are critical to our quality of life, and yet they are largely invisible," said John Q. Power, chairman of the corporation, which was formed when the county Chamber of Commerce merged with an organization promoting local employment.
A team of four fire and rescue workers who treated a woman in Olney with more than 50 stab wounds was awarded one of three bronze medals.
Fire-rescue Lt. Daniel Irvine, 38, who has spent half his life doing rescue work, including during the 1993 bombing in Oklahoma City, said he was amazed to find the woman alive.
"The first thing you worry about is if a lung had been punctured, but there were so many holes, it was hard to believe her lungs were filling with air," said Irvine, who lives in Middletown.
The woman survived, and her assailant was caught within 24 hours, said firefighter-rescuer Ernest Farkas, 29, who shared the award.
"She had very traumatic injuries, with stab wounds up and down her chest and back, her legs and arms. But you don't really think about it. You do what you're trained to do, to try to save her life," said Farkas, who lives in Hagerstown. "It was snowing very hard, and we didn't think she'd make it all the way to the trauma unit at Suburban, so we took her to Montgomery General, which was closer."
Firefighter-paramedic Sherry Hohl, of Finksburg, and firefighter-rescuer Jody Nightengale, of Clarksburg, also shared the award.
Police Sgt. Dom Fazio, of Germantown, was honored with a bronze medal for his off-duty actions last July, when he stopped two people in Germantown who were trying to transport more than 200 pounds of marijuana. Another bronze medal went to police officers Brian Dillman of Germantown and Claude Onley of Frederick, who rescued a man trapped in a burning car after a collision in Gaithersburg on New Year's Day 1999.
Police Lt. Michael Garvey, Sgt. Robert Phillips and Detective Edward V. Tarney, who spent 13 years investigating the murder of 6-year-old Michele Dorr, received an honorable mention.
"We never lost hope that we would solve the case," said Garvey, who lives in Damascus and has been on the police force for 27 years. "It felt very satisfying to me that we could bring the remains of Michele to her parents so that they could finally bring closure to her death."
Another honorable mention went to Officer Robert Hunt, of Germantown, who delivered a baby in a van on the shoulder of Interstate 270 last November. The infant's umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck.
"The baby's head was cresting when I got there, and when he came out his face was purple, and he was unresponsive. I flipped the cord out of the way, cleared out his mouth, gave a him a few pats on the back, and he started breathing," said Hunt, who had never delivered a baby before.
The baby's parents used Hunt's name for their son's middle name. They live on Hunt's Germantown beat, and he visits the family regularly.
Other honorable mention awards went to:
Anthony Veith, of Mount Airy, a firefighter who while off-duty treated a man with life-threatening injuries who was pinned in his car during an accident in which his car veered down a steep embankment and struck a tree.
Robin Dyer, of Gaithersburg, a police officer who while off-duty apprehended a suspect who had previously shot and fatally injured a neighbor.
Larry Lewis, a fire and rescue lieutenant who lives in Adamstown, and firefighter-rescuer Douglas Hinkle, of New Market, who rescued an occupant trapped in a burning house.
Stephen Batdorff, of Bethesda, and Kirk Risinger, of Burtonsville, volunteers with the Burtonsville Volunteer Fire Department, who rescued an unconscious man from a burning house in Calverton.
Theresa Durham, a police officer who lives in Rockville, who while off-duty apprehended several armed-robbery suspects, one of whom was armed.
Fire/injury prevention educator Mary Marchone (assigned to the Life Safety Services Bureau), of Rockville, received the Leslie B. Thompson Community Service Award, given for dedication and initiative above and beyond the call of duty over a period of time without compensation. She was honored for her 32 years of service to the fire and rescue services and the community.
Police officer Charles Weiter was given the Bernard D. Crooke Jr. Community Service Award for his professional police work as well as his off-duty efforts to help local youth and their communities.