Fresno police Officer Kennan Rodems arrived on scene to a mother's worst nightmare: her 3-year-old child not breathing, seemingly lifeless in her arms.
When Rodems got to the Fresno home on July 27, 2012, the frantic mother standing in the driveway thrust her baby girl into his arms.
He could have waited for paramedics to arrive, and consoled the woman in the meantime. But he didn't.
Rodems turned the child face down and administered two back blows. She vomited, then stopped. Still appearing lifeless, he administered more blows. She vomited again, heaved, began to breath, and went lifeless once more as he looked into her eyes.
Rodems was relentless. Again, he turned her over, and continued to administer the blows. Because of his persistence, she was breathing again when paramedics arrived at the home.
The story of Rodems going above and beyond the normal demands of the job was one of many told Tuesday during a Fresno Police Department awards ceremony at City Hall.
Officers like Rodems helped save a life, "not by chance, but by choice," Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said.
At this year's Major Commendation Awards Ceremony, seven officers were awarded the Lifesaving Medal. Four received the DUI Recognition Medal for making more than 500 DUI arrests, and 12 received the Recovered Firearms Award Pin for taking 10 or more guns away from criminals on the streets of Fresno within a one-year period. For extraordinary achievement and meritorious service, a captain and officer also received the Medal of Merit.
Other stories of heroism told Tuesday included a heartwarming surprise for Fresno officers Gregory Catton, Robert Thompson and David Miramontes. While the trio was being honored for giving CPR and using a defibrillator to make 21-year-old Eryn Watkins' heart start beating again, the Bakersfield woman stepped on stage to hang their Lifesaving Medals around their necks.
Watkins collapsed suddenly at Macy's in Fashion Fair Mall last year, and doctors told the police that she probably wouldn't have survived without the immediate application of CPR by the officers.
Other Lifesaving Medal recipients were officers Bernie Vizcarra and Damon Edrozo, who helped pull a man from a swift-moving canal in Fresno, and Richard Sorondo, who prevented a prisoner at Community Regional Medical Center from grabbing a correctional officer's gun as the prisoner beat the officer and sprayed other hospital staff with pepper spray.
Dyer said police have some of the toughest jobs because they are forced to "know the unknown, see the unseen, and make split-second decisions with limited facts, knowing full well they will be scrutinized by people after with all the facts."
The four officers who were recognized for making more than 500 drunken driving arrests were applauded for helping cut back on some alarming statistics. Since 2005, 72 people have been killed and 819 have been injured in DUI collisions in Fresno, officials said. Thanks to police efforts, DUI fatalities in the city have dropped by 38%, according to the department.
To officers who received the new Recovered Firearms Award Pin, officials said that "without the continued efforts of all personnel to disarm these individuals, the citizens of Fresno would experience a record number of incidents of gun violence."
"Police officers confront danger on a daily basis, regardless of the harm it may cause to them," Dyer said.
Medal of Merit award winners were Capt. Dennis Bridges and Officer Nick Fleischmann.
Moving up the ranks from officer, to sergeant, lieutenant and now captain, Bridges was described as a creative crime fighter who thinks "outside the box."
Bridges' accomplishments include helping create the Street Violence Section, which hastened criminal investigations, and developing the Violent Crime Bureau, which works to deter street violence, gangs and graffiti.
From the end of June 2010 through January 2013, the violent crime team made 6,605 felony arrests (4,146 gang-related), seized 670 firearms and served 444 search warrants, police said.
Bridges' colleagues described him as a modest and dedicated man who often listens to his police radio at home into the night to give directions to officers.
Officer Fleischmann, the other Medal of Merit winner, was honored for saving the department a minimum of $530,000 by using his own time to obtain new guns for police officers. He brokered a deal with Beretta USA that exchanged 1,000 used pistols from the department for new Beretta Px4 Storm compacts, at no cost to the department.
"Most of us are able to sleep at night because of you," City Manager Bruce Rudd told the gathered officers on Tuesday. "And without you, a huge segment of our community would not be able to live the lives that we do ... No matter what happens in the day-in and day-out of politics, I know in my heart you do this out of a love for your community."
Here are those honored at Fresno Police Department's Major Commendation Awards Ceremony, grouped by award:
- Lifesaving Medal: Officers Bernie Vizcarra, Damon Edrozo, Kennan Rodems, Richard Sorondo, Gregory Catton, Robert Thompson and David Miramontes
- Medal of Merit: Capt. Dennis Bridges and Officer Nick Fleischmann
- Recovered Firearms Award Pin: Officers Jordan Beckford, Mark Bishop, Brandon Brown, Leonard Cabrera, Nathan Carr, Alfonso Castillo, Marcus Gray II, Pierce Masse, Todd Turney, Anthony Vallez, Kenneth Webb and Vince Zavala
- DUI Recognition Medal: Officers Jake Dellone, Craig Howard, David Verduzco and Darryll Van Duersen
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