Detroit first-responders honored for serving community; some gave their lives
Detroit — Police Sgt. Rasheen McClain knew he was putting his life in danger when he went into a home on the city's west side looking for a suspect armed with a rifle, just as Sgt. Sivad Johnson, a firefighter, knew he was risking his life when he dove into the Detroit River to rescue three young girls.
They completed their missions and lost their lives for it. And for those acts of bravery, the two men, among 33 other Detroit first-responders, were recently honored for heroism in the 2020 Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony.
The ceremony, conducted virtually this year, honors police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel for "bravery, heroism and sacrifice," according to the Detroit Public Safety Foundation, which works in a partnership with citizens and Detroit's public safety departments to help make the city safer.
"I have never been more proud of our first-responders, including our DDOT drivers, who have been on the frontline since the start of this pandemic," said Mayor Mike Duggan, who lauded the men and women for showing up every day before "anyone had an understanding of COVID-19."
Awards included the Medal of Valor and the Purple Heart.
Others honored included:
•Cpl. Jose Martinez and police Officers Arthur Goff, Bradley Brandt and Brian Cartner saved a woman from a suicide attempt on April 9 after a call about a woman acting erratically and in a hostile manner. She fled the scene after police responded.
"The officers followed her, knowing she was not in a stable state," according to a police release Friday. "The woman ran to a Lodge Service Dr. overpass where she lept over the railing but managed to grab the rail with her left hand to stop from falling." The officers were awarded the Medal of Valor for their actions.
•Paramedic Jason Parnell received a Medal of Valor Award after he and his partner responded to a car stuck in the Detroit River with the driver trapped inside. During the ceremony, Parnell said in a video: "Without even hesitating, I jumped in the water and I immediately went to assist the DNR officer who was already in the water trying to get the man out of the car."
The driver, initially refusing rescue attempts, was pulled through a passenger window and survived.
•Firefighter Kenneth Williams received a Medal of Valor Award for rescuing children trapped inside a burning house on April 6. Firefighters dispatched to a house learned two or three children were inside.
"We got to a bedroom and I just started searching and I felt a leg," Williams said. "I scooped the kids up and (a firefighter) took the kids and got out. I continued to look because they said there was up to three kids."
Two girls, twins, were hiding together and were pulled from the flames and survived.
Two civilian awards were handed out to Comerica Bank for Public Safety Partner and Dan Gilbert for the James B. Nicholson City Change Maker award, whose support has provided safety and training facilities for first-responders.
The ceremony included celebrity tributes from Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, Detroit Tigers' great Willie Horton, Troy Weaver of the Pistons, comedian Alonzo Bodden and Detroit Free Press columnist and author Mitch Albom.
McClain, who died in an ambush in November 2019 after he led officers into a house in Detroit where a gunman was armed with an SKS semi-automatic rifle, and Johnson, a 26-year veteran of the Fire Department, who died in August, received posthumous Purple Heart awards. Johnson was off duty when he left his daughter where they were walking near the Yacht Club after hearing three girls screaming for help and dove into the river.
Police Chief James Craig said despite the challenges of the job and "even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice," members of his department keep heading to work.
"When confronted with adversity, it is these individuals, these heroes who stand with unwavering bravery and commitment, to answer the call," Craig said. "Instead of running away from danger, they always run towards danger."
Detroit Fire Commissioner Eric Jones called public safety "an adventure and a calling," and said during the ceremony that those who serve know they are putting themselves at risk and are asking those whom they love to sacrifice as well.
He mentioned the first-responders and family members lost to COVID-19, five from DPD, one from EMS and one member from the Fire Department. He also gave special mention to Skylar Herbert, the 5-year-old daughter of firefighter Ebbie Herbert and police Officer LaVondria Herbert, who died in April of the virus.
“Skylar’s loss deeply affected the Fire Department and the Police Department,” Jones said. “As young as she was, Skylar’s purpose was giving her all to strangers, helping those less fortunate than herself.”
She was the epitome, he said, of what first-responders strive to achieve in their sacrifice.
2020 Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony recipients:
Medal of Valor
Detroit Police Department:
- Officer Bradley Brandt
- Officer Eric Brown
- Officer Kenneth Burley
- Officer Brandon Byas
- Officer Brian Cartner
- Officer Danny Chambers
- Cpl. Alvin Cherry
- Officer Clinton Elam
- Officer Arthur Goff
- Officer Dorian Hardy
- Officer Tyler Long
- Cpl. Jose Martinez
- Officer Stephen Merritt
- Cpl. Juan Reynoso
- Officer Joshua Scott
- Detective Gentry Shelby
- Officer Dwayne Toney
- Sgt. Marcus Ways
- Officer Joseph Weaver
- Officer Matthew Webb
- Officer Anthony Williams
- Officer Cortez Williams
Detroit Fire Department:
- Paramedic Jason Cornell
- Senior Firefighter Michael Hall
- Firefighter Allen Lingeman Trial
- Firefighter Stephen Loewen
- Firefighter Cameron Miller
- Sgt. Elizabeth Szmrecsanyi
- Firefighter Kenneth Williams II
Purple Heart Award
Detroit Police Department:
- Cpl. (Sgt) Rasheen McClain, posthumously awarded
- Officer Philippe Batoum-Bisse
Detroit Fire Department:
- Sgt. Sivad Johnson, posthumously awarded
- Firefighter Alexander Rodriguez
- Firefighter Mark Taylor
- Capt. Harry Wilson