Montgomery County honors selfless, everyday heroes

Lifesaving Awards were given out on Dec. 4 to firefighters, dispatchers and “Everyday Heroes” in Montgomery County. (WTOP/John Domen)

A packed room at the Montgomery County Public Safety Office in Gaithersburg, Maryland, on Wednesday honored several people who worked quickly, selflessly and sometimes even nonchalantly this year when someone’s life depended on it.

Referred to as “Everyday Heroes,” those who stepped up and responded to a dozen incidents were honored. They ranged from firefighters and medics to dispatchers to regular citizens.

Survivors such as Mel Sessa, of Olney, Maryland, were there to thank those who provided that lifesaving help.

On March 15, Sessa was at home eating breakfast when he suffered a massive heart attack. His wife called 911 and firefighters and paramedics rushed to his home to help.

“If you have enough time on the job, you can look at somebody and say that person is very sick,” said firefighter-paramedic Michael Dugger, one of those who responded. “We noticed you were very sick.”

Most of the time, in situations such as the one in which Sessa found himself, there’s no chance for a reunion like the one that was held Wednesday.

Dugger was not even sure he could remember what Sessa looked like, but when they were reintroduced the two gave each other a big hug.

They both recounted exactly what happened that day, including the ambulance ride to the hospital where Sessa was given a stent. He has since fully recovered.

“I made coffee, was eating a bowl of cereal, and the next thing I knew I was wondering if I’m going to see my children and my grandchildren,” Sessa said.

“I think everybody was thinking I was afraid because I had tears in my eyes. What I kept thinking was, ‘I want to see my wife. I want to see my son. I just hope I had the chance to tell them, if I’m not going to make it, I hope I can tell them that I love them.’ So yeah, to be here today is pretty special.”

Sessa was particularly impressed with the instructions he got about what was going to happen leading up to his arrival at the hospital, and how the chaos that seemed to be around him was actually under control.

He tried to go back to the firehouse to thank those who came to his aid, but this is the first time he was able to meet Dugger and the others involved.

“How do you thank someone for saving your life?” Sessa said.

Instead of dying, he’ll get the chance to meet his third grandchild, a boy, due in January. He admits he wasn’t sure it would happen.

“I remembered thinking, ‘Am I going to be here to hold him in my arms?’” Sessa said.

Along with Dugger, firefighters Giovani Taylor, Travis Cooper, Gary Kern, Jaron Hall, Zachariah Leigh, and master firefighters Cesar Au, Lt. David Berk and Capt. Kirk Ney were honored for their actions that day.

Other lifesaving calls that led to honors Wednesday included:

June 19: Firefighters Patrick Hathaway, Steven Abramovitch, Shawn Kessler and firefighter-paramedic Marc Ondrejko responded to a home in Gaithersburg, where a 21-year-old man was having trouble breathing and was in cardiac distress.

June 19: Firefighters Brent Sheely, Christian Spindle, Gregory Tipton, Capts. Thomas Gartner and Dwayne Dutrow, Lt. John Horrell and Matthew Hall, MFP Sean Cramer were honored after saving a man who was found unconscious in the break room of a Gaithersburg office. Multiple shocks from a defibrillator, along with other steps, brought the patient back to life after 18 minutes. A brain injury has caused some slight memory loss, but otherwise, the patient has recovered.

June 24: Firefighters James Blizzard, Brian Hanes, Justine Conover, firefighters-paramedics Rob Trovato, Capt. Bill Phelps and Horrell were honored after helping a child who nearly drowned in a community pool in Gaithersburg. The child was blue and unresponsive after he was pulled out of 4 feet of water by the lifeguard at the pool. Young lifeguard Marisa Arnold was hailed as an “Everyday Hero” for beginning CPR for two minutes until the boy began breathing on his own. By the time first responders arrived, the child was lying at the edge of the pool and crying. Since then, the child has turned 5 years old and is doing well.

July 23: Firefighter-paramedic Levi Little was driving on Interstate 70 with his wife and two daughters in Hancock, Maryland, when he came upon a truck that had driven into a guardrail on the shoulder of the highway. Little, a paramedic stationed in Potomac who was off-duty at the time, had his wife call 911, while he checked on the driver, who he quickly discovered was having a heart attack.

“I pulled him out of the truck and started doing CPR,” Little said.

It took 10 minutes, on the side of the interstate, for Washington County paramedics to get to the scene.

“It does get tiring [after 10 minutes],” admitted Little. “As long as you keep doing the compressions at a steady rhythm, time does go by quickly, especially when you know the minutes count.”

All of this happened while Little’s two daughters were in his car.

“We had talked just prior to the incident that anytime you can do something good, and it’s odd that this situation had happened … anytime you can stop and do something good for somebody else, it’s always rewarding,” Little said.

He adds that Wednesday’s ceremony, which was attended by his wife and two daughters, helps to reinforce that lesson.

July 26: Firefighter Collin Eckroade and firefighters-paramedics Geoffrey Smith and Alejandro Zea were honored for helping a man, who was found unconscious and in cardiac distress by a co-worker at a Rockville office. Quick analysis and treatment helped get the patient home from the hospital the next day.

Aug. 1: Firefighters Jonathan Silberhorn, David Jordan, Oscar Montalvo, Lt. Anthony Damico, firefighter-paramedic David Sweder-Gold, master firefighter Justin Greer and Capt. Pete Dugan were honored for their response after a man collapsed in Lakeforest Mall. Bystanders began CPR and administered two shocks from a defibrillator. They had the patient breathing on his own before he arrived at Shady Grove Hospital.

Aug. 6: Firefighters-paramedics Geoffrey Herman, Arye Singer, master firefighter Dane Donnelly, firefighter Justin Carter and Lt. Michael Dicely were honored for helping a woman described as being in severe respiratory distress at a Rockville office building.

Aug. 11: Firefighters Aaron McCombs, Jonathan Durjan, Brandon Tarner, Abramovitch, Tyler Kime, Christopher Rivera, Nathan Hughes, Joseph Crum, Lt. Robert Faas and Capt. Michael Porter were honored for helping a man who collapsed at the driving range of the Montgomery Country Club. David Asaki, who was practicing shots next to the victim, was also honored as an “Everyday Hero” for beginning CPR right away.

Sept. 13: Firefighters Todd Russell, William Briggs, Christopher Claxton, Jeffrey Thomas, Jason Rhein and Willie Day; Capt David Cater; master firefighter Mitch Nagaraj; firefighter-paramedic Dennis Schmidt Jr.; master firefighter Kevin Ochall and Capt. Tyron Dement responded when an Olney man had a heart attack while eating dinner. It took three shocks from a defibrillator to get his heart beating the way it needed to. Public safety call-taker Tyler Jones, the victim’s wife and his friend Joel Beidleman (who started CPR until paramedics could arrive) were also recognized for helping as “Everyday Heroes.”

“It was a big team work involved,” Nagaraj said. “All the pieces had to come together to work.”

Sept. 20: Firefighters Ryan Travers, Cale Latchaw, Ryan Garey, and firefighter-paramedic Christopher Martino were honored for their assistance with a 29-year-old woman who was pinned in the wreckage of a single-vehicle crash on the Inner Loop of the Capital Beltway in Prince George’s County. Her car was on the embankment, her upper body was in the back seat and her legs were pinned. She was eventually extricated through the rear window; and she was transported with extreme head, chest, pelvis and lower-extremity injuries. She is still in rehabilitation during her recovery.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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