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Rotary honors safety officials with awards

DULUTH -- Several public safety officials who risked their lives to save others during September's historic floods and a firefighter who started a mentoring program were honored Tuesday with awards from the Rotary Club of Gwinnett County.

"Our Rotary Club has done this every year for many years," said Phil Wolfe, the club's president. "It's our way of saying thank you to the people who put themselves in harm's way every day for our safety."

Sgt. James Redmond, Officer Daweed Nass, Officer Joshua Dickerson, Cpl. Patrick Dunning, Cpl. Elbert Gurley, Officer Stephan Starnes and Officer James Tait, all of the Gwinnett County Police Department, were honored as the Officers of the Year for saving a woman who clung to a tree after her vehicle was swept away by floodwaters on Oak Road.

The woman's 911 call came in at 3:50 a.m. Sept. 22, and the seven officers arrived on the scene almost simultaneously and began formulating a rescue.

"Without consideration for personal safety, you each stripped away the heavy parts of your uniform and entered the water," a letter of commendation from Lt. Mike Pearson reads. "This was an execution of perfect teamwork, and with the help of the fire department's ropes and life jackets, the victim was safety returned to solid ground."

Senior Deputy Jeffery Keber of the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department was honored as the Deputy of the Year for his role in saving a man whose pickup truck was stuck in rising floodwater on Tom Smith Road near Five Forks-Trickum Road.

While on patrol on Sept. 21, Keber saw the pickup truck stall after attempting to cross a flooded area of the road. The water was up to the truck's door handle -- and getting higher. When the water level started to crest the hood of the vehicle, Keber decided the truck's driver was no longer safe in the vehicle.

Keber tied a rope to his waist and walked out to the pickup truck, where he was able to tie the rope around the driver's waist. Both men were able to make their way back to safety.

"Deputy Keber's unselfish actions and valiant service, despite imminent personal danger, reflect credit upon himself and are in keeping with the highest tradition of humanitarian service and the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department," a letter from Sgt. B. Whiteside reads.

The Firefighter of the Year, Battalion Chief Eddie Myers, started a successful mentoring program in elementary schools. The Firefighters Lunch and Mentoring Experience, or FLAME, promotes the concept of one-on-one mentoring as a success strategy to help students who are referred by local schools because of truancy, disciplinary problems, poor academic performance or other at-risk indicators.

Since the program's inception in 2009, 88 students in 20 elementary schools in Gwinnett have benefited from their relationship with their firefighter mentors.

The honorees were selected for the awards by their peers and supervisors at

the Gwinnett County Police Department, Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department,

and Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services.