Honoring First Responders
| 2015 Q3 | story by LIZ WESLANDER | photos by PATRICK CONNOR |
Friends, family and colleagues of area first responders gathered at the Crown Toyota Pavilion, 3430 Iowa St., on September 11 to celebrate the recipients of this year’s Lawrence-Douglas County Valor Awards. A total of 58 awards were given to 52 honorees from police, fire and medical departments in the Douglas County area.
“Our first responders do such a wonderful job that we usually don’t think about them until we have to call on them,” says Michelle Derusseau, chairperson of the Lawrence- Douglas County Valor Awards Board of Directors. “But they are on call every minute of every day. The anniversary of 9/11 serves as a reminder of the risks these men and women take every day for our community, and is an appropriate time to acknowledge their hard work and dedication.”
The Lawrence-Douglas County Valor Awards were established in 2011 by cofounders Harry Herington and Tom Kern. The Valor Awards ceremony was not held in 2014 because of transitions occurring within the organization, so the 2015 ceremony included awards for acts of valor that occurred between September 1, 2013, and July 31, 2015.
Valor Award Honorees are nominated by their colleagues and are then chosen by a selection committee that includes three members of the Valor Awards Board and nine members of the Douglas County community. The committee also includes three retired public-safety officers who act as advisors to the committee by answering questions about the details of and risk involved in certain first-responder situations.
There are five different types of Valor Awards that recognize various levels of risk and high-stakes decision-making. The highest-level award, the Gold Valor Award, has never been awarded. This year, Lieutenant Clark Rials, of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Officer Skyler Richardson, of the Lawrence Police Department, and Corporal Kim Springer, of the Baldwin City Police Department, all received the Silver Valor Award, which is the second-highest level of award.
Rials earned a Silver Award for his actions during a call on a rainy early morning in June 2014 regarding a possible intoxicated driver driving without headlights on K-10 Highway just east of Lawrence. While Rials was stopped behind the vehicle on the side of the road, the driver drove away and began driving erratically eastbound, still without headlights. Rials pursued the vehicle until it entered the highway median and then began driving eastbound in the westbound lanes of K-10. Rials instructed another deputy to attempt to deploy a tire-deflating device east of the wrong-way driver, but before the deputy could arrive, the vehicle approached the crest of a hill in the westbound lanes. Rials could see the reflection of westbound headlights over the crest of the hill.
According to the nomination report:
“Lieutenant Rials made a time-crucial decision to legally intervene and perform a Pursuit Immobilization Technique [PIT]. The vehicle was stopped using the technique on his second attempt. During the incident, other traffic, including a tractor-trailer, was able to safely stop. Until Lieutenant Rials intervened, the suspect vehicle could not be seen by the oncoming tractor-trailer. Due to his quick thinking and appropriate action, Lieutenant Rials was able to successfully end the pursuit without any serious accidents and avoided injury to the suspect driver and innocent motorists.”
Officer Richardson earned a Silver Award for his actions when responding to a call of reported gunshots heard in a neighborhood in June 2014. The call eventually led Richardson to a residence containing an intoxicated man who was holding a blunt object. The man’s father was also at the home. As the situation unfolded, the son located a shotgun in the home and proceeded to load it. Continued commands to drop the weapon went unheeded, and Officer Richardson told the father to get behind him for protection. According to the Valor Award nomination letter:
“When the son began to level the shotgun at the officer and the father, Officer Richardson was forced to fire his weapon at the son, and he immediately collapsed. Almost simultaneously, additional officers began to arrive on scene. The son was transported to the hospital, where he eventually recovered from his wounds. Due to the brave actions of Officer Richardson, neither he nor the father sustained any injuries from that encounter.”
Corporal Springer earned a Silver Award for her actions during a call to a structure fire in Baldwin in January 2015. When she arrived on the scene, the back of the home was engulfed in flames, so Springer entered through the front of the house and yelled several times asking if anyone was in the home. Receiving no answer, Springer made her way down the hallway of the home to look in rooms for people. The nomination document reports:
“She looked inside the second bedroom and observed a pile of blankets on the bed. She pulled at the blankets, and a resident of the house jumped up and out of the bed. Corporal Springer advised him that the house was on fire, and he needed to exit the home. Corporal Springer, by performing in the face of imminent danger and entering the burning residence, saved the resident’s life.”
The Valor Golf Tournament, sponsored by Intrust Bank, is held annually in June at Eagle Bend Golf Course and is the main fundraiser for the Valor Program. Derusseau says the Valor Program board is working on finding more ways to get the community involved in the program in order to raise awareness of first responders’ important work. The Board recently organized a “First-Graders for First Responders” art contest, for which local first-graders designed posters thanking their local first responders for their work. The winning entry was featured on the cover of the awards ceremony program.
Gold Valor Award
The highest award in recognition of an act involving extreme personal risk, which is clearly above and beyond the call of duty. Because of the high degree of bravery, judgment and circumstances required to warrant presentation of a Gold Valor Award, this award may not be presented every year.
Silver Valor Award
Awarded in recognition of acts involving great personal risk, although not qualifying for a gold medal, which are clearly above and beyond the call of duty.
Bronze Valor Award
Awarded in recognition of acts involving unusual personal risk beyond that which should be expected while performing the usual responsibilities. Bronze medals may also be awarded to those who demonstrate unusual judgment, zeal or ingenuity during an emergency situation when such an act is beyond that normally expected in the performance of duty.
Life Saving Honor Award
Awarded in recognition of acts taken in a life-threatening situation where an individual’s life is in jeopardy.
Meritorious Valor Award
Awarded in recognition of acts involving personal risk or demonstrating unusual judgment, zeal or ingenuity not normally expected in the performance of duties.
Valor Awards Selection Committee:
Advisors to the Selection Committee:
Dan Affalter, Captain (retired), Lawrence Police Department
Steve Hornberger, Undersheriff (retired), Douglas County Sheriff’s Office
Allen Johnson, Captain (retired), Lawrence Douglas County Fire-Medical