The suicidal woman jumped into the black, churning waters of the Potomac River in one of the most treacherous stretches near Great Falls about 1 am last July.
Fairfax County Police officer Ali Sepehri, of the McLean District station, couldn't see her but he immediately followed her into the water. "She pushed me under the water once. I thought this was not good. I literally thought I was going to die."
Fairfax County Police Officer Federick Yap, of the Reston District station, also jumped into the white water tumbling over very large rocks. "One mistake and you are gone," he said.
Struggling together they pulled the woman and themselves to safety. After she was taken away, they returned to their stations, changed uniforms and continued their overnight shifts.
"For their remarkable acts of courage and commitment," they were among 103 Fairfax County police and fire and rescue officers, Vienna and Herndon police officers and county Sheriff's deputies honored for their selfless service yesterday at the 34th annual Valor Awards.
Nearly 700 public service officers, their wives, children, businessmen and elected officials filled the grand ballroom of the McLean Hilton in Tysons Corner to honor the men and women who protect county residents. The Valor Awards are given by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce which also gives scholarships to the children of public safety officers.
Leon Harris, WJLA-TV's popular anchor read "remarkable stories of heroism" as the first responders, who usually work in anonymity, stepped forward in dress uniforms to receive awards for putting their lives in danger on behalf of county residents.
Thirty-five, including Sepehri and Yap, were honored for acts involving "great personal risk which were above and beyond the call of duty." Harris read one heart-stopping citation after another:
- Capt. Ronald Novak, Lt. Kevin Barrington and officers worked together to pull an unconscious woman from a burning car on Lee Jackson Highway about 2 am. April 15. "The heat and flames were intense, making it difficult for the officers to breathe and see through the thick, black toxic smoke. ... They managed to free the victim from the burning car and carry her 200 feet just as the engine compartment exploded."
- Lt. Thomas Flint and Tech. Robert Pickel of Fairfax Fire and Rescue saved two mothers and their infant children from a flooded apartment building. The rushing waters swept the mothers away and the fire officers, clinging to a traffic sign, caught them and pulled them to safety.
- Private Naftali Jacob, an EMT, was vacationing in New York when he saw a man shot. Jacob rushed to the man who was covered in blood and glass and "without protective gloves applied pressure to the victim's femoral artery." The victim lost consciousness but Jacob roused him.
- Master Police Officer Peter Norris confronted a woman standing in a medical building who had soaked herself in gasoline and was trying to strike a match to set herself on fire. He ran at her, knocking the matches from her hands and pinned her to the floor.
Yap spoke for many of his fellow officers when he said, "I'm proud and happy," of the award. "Being a religious person I know this is a calling from God. When I did this, I didn't even think about it ... We just did it instantly because we have the passion to serve the public."
Sepehri said: "I'm just happy we could be in the situation to save someone's life."
At this year’s ceremony, 48 Lifesaving Awards, 25 Certificates of Valor, 27 Bronze Medals of Valor and eight Silver Medals of Valor were presented. Many of the awards stem from heroic actions taken during the severe flooding Northern Virginia experienced Sept. 8.
A copy of all the citations accompanies this story.
Fairfax County Police Chief David Rohrer said of the ceremony: "I'm so proud of the men and women who serve ... We are so blessed to have many supporters and an engaged community. This (ceremony) is indicative of that support."
L. Burwell Gunn, of First Virginia Community Bank and a trustee of the Valor Scholarship Fund, said: "Any day the business community can reach out and thank public safety personnel for all the wonderful things they do that most people don't even know ... we can't say thank you enough."
John Speicher, a McLean resident and one of 14 judges who selected the winners, said: "It was my distinct privilege to serve on the small awards committee that evaluated and approved these awards earlier this year. As Leon Harris read their names, I vividly recalled the individual nominations and extraordinary circumstances that we had read about."