Chamber honors first responders, others for bravery, commitment
Pandemic forced this year’s Public Safety Awards to be virtual
The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce on Thursday continued its annual tradition of honoring police officers, firefighters and others for their exemplary devotion to public safety.
Dozens of people were recognized in a one-hour video for their heroic acts, such as rescuing someone from a burning building, or for commitment to the community, such as organizing an annual shopping trip for children and police officers.
The chamber’s 46th annual Public Safety Awards were done differently this year because of COVID-19 restrictions on gathering.
A large luncheon usually held for the awards presentation was scheduled in March, but was canceled because of the pandemic. Instead, the honors and presentations were done in a one-hour video posted Thursday on the chamber’s Facebook page and in other places online.
“Ordinarily, we would welcome more than 1,200 of you in person,” Gigi Godwin, the chamber’s president and CEO, said in the video.
“These are the heroes that run into the burning buildings as most others are running out,” she said.
“We are grateful for what you do each and every day and appreciate your service and salute your dedication to our community,” said event chair Steven A. Robins of Lerch, Early & Brewer.
The annual awards shine a light on the deeds of Montgomery County five public safety agencies: the county police department, the Fire & Rescue Service, the sheriff’s office, the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, and the Maryland-National Capital Park Police (Montgomery County Division).
The awards included:
- Public Safety Champion of the Year: Rich Leotta, for his advocacy in the area of trying to prevent drunken driving. His son, Noah, was a Montgomery County police officer. A drunken driver struck and killed Noah Leotta in 2015 while he was doing an enforcement effort to look for drunk driving.
- Corporate Vital Link Award: Target department store, for its various efforts to help police and the community, including Police Adventure Camp, National Night Out, and the Heroes and Helpers program in which officers shop with children.
- Government Partner of the Year: Montgomery County Public Schools, for programs that introduce students to careers in law enforcement, fire science and rescue work
Public Safety Valor Awards and others
- Gold Medal of Valor Award to Sgt. Scott Brooks of Montgomery County police. While driving to work, he noticed heavy smoke and fire coming from a home near Randolph Road and New Hampshire Avenue. He found a woman inside and helped her get out, then went back inside to rescue the woman’s husband, who had fallen.
- Bronze Medal of Valor Award to Lieutenant Wesley Owens of Fire & Rescue for helping on the same call with Brooks.
- Silver Medal of Valor Award to Officer Michael Damskey of Montgomery County police. During a traffic stop on Georgia Avenue, he saw a van on fire coming toward him, then stop. He pulled someone from the van and used an extinguisher to help put out the fire.
- Silver Medal of Valor Award to Officer Samuel Yun of Montgomery County police. An 18-year-old man left an emergency shelter in Bethesda and tried to kill himself by jumping from a bridge on MacArthur Boulevard. The man climbed over a security fence and stood on a narrow ledge, with counselors from the shelter trying to hold onto him. Yun climbed onto the ledge, too, to get a better chance to restrain the man, helping to save his life.
- Silver Medal of Honor Award to: Sgt. Douglas Cobb and Officers Christopher LaPoint, Dionne Holiday, Erick Mejia, Byung Kang, James Mirra and Jared Mauar. They helped apprehend a man who had a handgun in a BB&T bank in Silver Spring and said he had an explosive device. They kept other people from the scene, closed streets and found witnesses.
- Silver Medal of Valor Award to Officer John Gloss, for his response after a group smashed a vehicle into the front of United Guns in Rockville and stole 29 guns, plus ammunition. Gloss fired several shots at the thieves after they sideswiped his police cruiser in their getaway car. Three suspects were arrested. The fourth was found dead in the getaway vehicle.
- Silver Medal of Honor to Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service firefighter David Wakeley, who, while on vacation in North Carolina, worked to save the life of a drowning swimmer. Wakely helped get the swimmer out of the water, but the swimmer died. Wakely also helped the swimmer’s young grandson safely out of rising waves.
- Bronze Medal of Valor to Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Ibanez, who heard yelling outside his Burtonsville home and helped defuse a confrontation in which a 26-year-old autistic man had a knife and threatened to hurt people.
- Bronze Medal of Valor Award to: Capts. Michel Stream and Thomas Foster; Master Firefighters Larry Curry and William Macuch; and Firefighters Robert Rogers, Joseph Gagliardi and Christopher Kindel. After more than 5 inches of rain fell, there was dangerous flooding on Clara Barton Parkway, but some drivers still tried to go through the water. Their vehicles got stuck and the water was carrying them away. The fire crew rescued multiple people from their vehicles.
- Bronze Medal of Valor Award to Lieut. Alex Cederbaum and Master Firefighters Jesse Kelleher and Brian Rojtas. In a rescue vehicle on their way back to their station, they noticed someone fighting with a Metro Transit police officer in the middle of Hungerford Drive. The person was punching the officer in the head. The person also stole the officer’s Taser and tried to use it on the officer. The rescue crew blocked traffic and broke up the attack on the officer.
- Chief Bernard D. Crooke Jr. Community Service Award to Officer Michael S. Prather, who has been an officer for 26 years, including 16 as a community service officer. Prather works with organizations, civic groups, businesses, religious groups, and school administrators to give crime trends and prevention tips. He also coordinates the Heroes and Helpers program.
- Chief Leslie B. Thompson Jr. Community Service Award to Beth Anne Nesselt, a program manager with Fire and Rescue Service, for her work educating teachers, parents, business professionals, senior citizens, politicians and others on life safety programs
- Honorable mention of valor to Corporal Matthew Byers of Maryland-National Capital Park Police. While driving home after work, he saw a vehicle had hit a utility pole in Washington County. He and another person worked to get the unconscious driver out of the car, which was on fire.
- Honorable mention of valor to Firefighter/Paramedic Levi Little. While driving with his family on Interstate 70 in Washington County, he saw that a tractor-trailer had crashed in the median. He freed the driver, who was unconscious and not breathing.
- Honorable mention of valor award to Sgt. Matt Krest for his work handling a call for a person with a knife at a 7-Eleven. A unit citation went to: Krest and Officers Laura Myers, James Logan, Edward Barber, Charles Greene, Mark Hugi, Cody Darby, Chris West and Michelle Morgado
- Honorable mention of valor to Firefighters Michael Murphy, William Schrenk and Nathan Hanshew; Master Firefighter John Wyble Jr.; and Capt. Thomas Foster for their work on a call in which a woman with limited mobility was rescued from a burning house in Silver Spring.
A unit citation went to: Firefighters Nicholas Devries, Ryan Gray, Daniel Savanick and Simeon Idem; Firefighter/Paramedic William Ivany; Lieut. Michael Doyle; and Battalion Chief Jason Blake.
- Unit citation to Officers Geoffrey Rand, Christopher Mumper, Andrew Ingalls and Rachel Staiger; Sgt. Robert Lumsden; and Firefighter Nicholas Devries for their response to an attack by two dogs.
- Unit citation to Swiftwater 710, 710B and 730; Utility 730; Paramedic Engine 711; Utility Task Vehicle 711; Engine 752; Utility 752; and Battalion Chief 702 for their response to many people on the Billy Goat trail who were ill on a day of extreme heat. One person was taken to a hospital after having cardiac arrest, then died. Seven other people were treated and recovered.
- Officer Kyle David Olinger of Montgomery County police was remembered. He was shot during a traffic stop in 2003 and died in 2019 as a result of his injuries.