Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Michelle Oliva-Harrison, Christa Kirskey Karla Richter, center, and Silva Goalen were among those honored during the annual Gwinnett Chamber Valor Public Safety Awards at the Hilton Atlanta Northeast in Norcross Friday. The women were awarded the Medal of Merit for their efforts in the Juvenile Firesetter Prevention Program. The awards luncheon recognizes Gwinnett County's firefighters, police and EMT's for their public service.
2013 Valor Awards
Medal of Valor Award Winners
• Gold: Officer Joshua Smith, Gwinnett County Police Department
• Silver: Cpl. Jason Ayers, Sgt. Brad Ingalls and Officers James Harkins, Candler Horton, Tom Novak and Todd Ramsey; Gwinnett County Police Department
• Bronze: Lt. John Poe, Driver Engineers Lanny Britt and Eric Jensen, and Firefighters Paul Thompson, Robert Atcheson and Alan Krieg; Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services
Public Safety Person of the Year
Police Officer Sr. Justin Richey, Gwinnett County Police Department
Public Safety Unit of the Year
Central precinct day watch, community response team; Gwinnett County Police
Public Safety Leadership Award
Lt. Bill Stevens, retired;
Gwinnett Fire and Emergency Services and Duluth Police Department
Officer Neil Bullock, Snellville Police Department
Communications Officer of the Year
Medal of Merit (for outstanding public safety program)
Juvenile Firesetter Prevention Program, Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services
NORCROSS -- The Hilton Northeast Atlanta was Gwinnett's safest place to eat lunch Friday, but the 200 law enforcement officers and emergency personnel gathered in the Norcross hotel's ballroom weren't there to protect and serve.
They were summoned for the Gwinnett Chamber's Valor Awards, a rare opportunity for public recognition of the bravery they exhibit in their everyday work. Several awards -- from the Medal of Merit to the Lifesaving Award and Communications Officer of the Year -- were handed out before the highest honor, the Medal of Valor, was bestowed.
"You inspire each and every one of us, from the youngest to the oldest," U.S. Congressman Rob Woodall said to help kickoff the ceremony. "I'm honored to be among you today."
The Gold Medal of Valor, the highest of three honors given to personnel who "knowingly expose themselves to great personal risk," was given to Gwinnett County Police Officer Joshua Smith for his actions during a Sept. 12, 2012 call that resulted in shots being fired.
According to the Gwinnett Police Chief Charles Walters, Smith was dispatched to the scene of a domestic dispute in Lilburn that day when the suspect emerged from his garage holding a firearm. Smith repeatedly ordered the suspect to drop his weapon before shining his flashlight in the man's eyes and demanding yet again.
"(The subject) began to aggressively approached Officer Smith and began to raise his gun toward Officer Smith's position on the mailbox," Walters said in the video nominating Smith, played at Friday's ceremony. "Officer Smith immediately felt threatened and fired one round, hitting the subject in the chest."
Smith was not present at the awards ceremony.
The Silver Medal of Valor was given to Gwinnett County Police Cpl. Jason Ayers, Sgt. Brad Ingalls and Officers James Harkins, Candler Horton, Tom Novak and Todd Ramsey for their actions during a Dec. 4 call in Buford.
The Bronze Medal of Valor was given to Lt. John Poe, Driver Engineers Lanny Britt and Eric Jensen, and Firefighters Paul Thompson, Robert Atcheson and Alan Krieg from Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services for helping save two residents from their burning home last February.
Other awards given Friday included Public Safety Person of the Year (GCPD Police Officer Sr. Justin Richey), the Lifesaving Award (Snellville Police Officer Neil Bullock) and the Public Safety Leadership Award (Lt. Bill Stevens, retired from Gwinnett County fire and Duluth police).
Gwinnett County Chairwoman Charlotte Nash spoke to the crowd gathered Friday. She joked about being fact-checked by the media once when she called Gwinnett's school system the country's greatest -- then made an even more definitive statement.
"We have absolutely the best public safety operations here in Gwinnett County," Nash said, pausing for applause. "In the universe."