6 Henrico Officers Receive Valor Awards

Six Henrico police officers were presented with awards for heroism at the 21st Annual Valor Awards ceremony, sponsored by the Retail Merchants Association (RMA) and held Nov. 12 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.

The ceremony, attended by 500 community leaders, law enforcement officers and fire and rescue personnel, honored a total of seven recipients and featured Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling as keynote speaker.

Sergeant George S. Russell, Jr. received a silver award for his courage in rescuing a motorist from a burning car. Richmond firefighter Lt. Mark Rada also received a silver award for his rescue of an elderly woman trapped by a fire in her third-floor apartment.

After working the NASCAR races at Richmond International Raceway May 2, Russell was heading home in his personal vehicle at 1:45 a.m. On Route 33, about three miles into Hanover County, he came around a bend in the road and encountered two vehicles that had been in a head-on collision.

The engine of the pickup truck was on fire, and motorists who had stopped at the crash site were telling Russell to back away from the rapidly spreading flames. Nevertheless, Russell approached closely enough to see the engine pushed back into the passenger compartment, both airbags deployed, and the interior filling with smoke. No one was visible inside, but he could hear calls for help coming from the other car.

The driver of that car was stuck in his van, with fire spreading and gaining intensity. Sergeant Russell forced the door open and found the driver’s seat pushed forward by the crash, pinning the victim against the steering wheel. The victim told Russell he thought his legs were broken, and Russell spent several minutes prying his upper body free. Eventually, the man fell out of the van into his arms, and Russell dragged him to safety. Within minutes, both vehicles were completely ablaze.

After firefighters arrived on the scene to put out the fire, the pickup truck driver, who did not survive, was located in the floorboard of his vehicle. The awards committee noted that if not for Russell’s quick thinking and heroism, “while risking injury to himself during a very volatile and rapidly spreading fire,” the accident would undoubtedly have resulted in a double fatality.

Henrico police officers Cameron S. Campbell, Barry K. Clark, Terence L. Kennedy, Christopher B. Read and Leonard A. Zannin won bronze awards for their efforts to rescue two citizens from a February house fire in Sandston.

As Clark arrived at the scene, he observed heavy smoke and fire billowing from the front bay window. Clark ran up to the front door, kicked it open and made entry but turned back when confronted with flames and smoke. He was joined by Zannin, who also was forced to turn back. With help from Read and a communications officer, who was able to keep a victim on the phone, Zannin made additional attempts to crawl under the smoke and locate the residents inside.

After Campbell arrived on the scene and unsuccessfully attempted entry through a rear kitchen area, he broke the kitchen window to vent the smoke and improve visibility inside. Joined by a firefighter, the officers continued breaking more windows and attempting to enter and contact the occupants. As Campbell was breaking a window, two arms emerged through the smoke. A piece of furniture was blocking the victim’s escape route through the window.

With the firefighter using his ax to clear the way, Campbell, Zannin, and Kennedy grabbed the victim by her arms and pulled her through the window to safety.

Once the fire was extinguished, firefighters were able to rescue the other victim. Both women were transported to VCU Medical Center, where the first victim was treated and released; the second succumbed from her injuries the next day.

All five officers inhaled significant amounts of smoke during their repeated entry attempts.

“All officers demonstrated extraordinary bravery and self-sacrifice throughout this ordeal,” the awards committee said. “Faced with overwhelming conditions, these officers repeatedly placed themselves at risk.”

The officers’ courage came as no surprise to keynote speaker Bolling, who observed similar courage while accompanying a first responder during the 1990s.

Then a member of the Hanover Board of Supervisors, Bolling went on a ridealong with a Hanover deputy patrolling his beat. Near the end of the shift, the two came upon a scene in which a man had fallen out of his boat into a farm pond. Bolling watched from the shore and tried to restrain the family as the deputy dove repeatedly into the murky water trying to locate the victim.

Despite the deputy’s efforts, the man drowned, and Bolling was left deeply shaken by the experience.

“The most amazing thing about that story to me,” he told the crowd, “was that when it was over, I had had enough and was ready to go home.

“But this deputy simply went back to his house, put on a new uniform and went back to work,” Bolling said. “It was a very vivid, first-hand experience for me of what these guys do every day.”
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