Four University of Virginia police officers were honored Wednesday for their life-saving actions in the community.
Sgt. Casey Accord and officers Rayshaun Gause and Yong Bacon were honored for their work in saving the life of a University employee who suffered a heart attack last year, and Officer Benjamin Rexrode was recognized for his efforts to clear students from a burning apartment building on Wertland Street earlier this week.
The officers were honored at the University Police Department’s third annual awards ceremony, held at Alumni Hall. University Police Chief Michael Gibson hosted the event, which included remarks from guest speaker Dana G. Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and director of the Virginia Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.
On Jan. 31, 2012, Accord was the first officer on the scene of an apparent heart attack at Mary Munford Hall in the International Residential College. He radioed for an automated external defibrillator, which Gause brought, and he and Gause used the machine in an attempt to restart the woman’s heart. Bacon performed chest compressions following the use of the defibrillator and the officers kept this up until rescue personnel arrived.
Accord said at first the officers thought they had failed. In fact, Accord said he initially reported that the woman had died. “And then I prayed for the victim and her family,” he said.
“I walked into the hallway with Officers Bacon and Gause in time to hear the rescue personnel say ‘We have a heartbeat.’ We laughed and cried and yelled. We did something amazing that day.”
Dr. William Brady, medical director of the U.Va. Health System’s AED program, praised the officers for their efforts.
“They did better than their training,” he said. “They did not ‘contribute to saving her life,’ they did not ‘give her a 50 percent chance of surviving’, they did not ‘aid in saving her life.’ They saved her life. They were doing their duty and they saved her life.”
Brady asked all those who attended the luncheon to take a CPR course, because that could help them save lives in the future.
“A cardiac arrest is a sudden, complete cessation of heart function,” Brady said. “And what helps the most at that time is a basic push on the chest. Ventilation helps, but AEDs and pushing on the chest will save lives, the early pushing on the chest is important.”
University Police officers carry portable AEDs in their vehicles and there are AED units conspicuously available around Grounds.
Rexrode was honored for his efforts to clear occupants from a burning apartment building at 1256 Wertland Street early Monday morning.
Sgt. Matthew Clark said Rexrode was the first officer on the scene and found the front of the building already engulfed in flames. He went to the rear of the building and found people exiting, did a quick head count and was told that there were two missing.
“Rexrode entered the structure and searched the first floor, where he encountered heavy smoke,” Clark said. “He exited the structure and was then told that the two people had not been in the building and were staying somewhere else.”
Clark said Rexrode entered the building “without hesitation,” for which he received the University’s Medal of Valor, awarded for acts of bravery and heroism rendered by a member of the department who imperils himself or herself to protect the lives of others.
Charlottesville Fire Chief Charles Warner also praised Rexrode for securing the building in an effort to prevent injury or death and for assisting the fire department in its task.
In her remarks, Schrad, who noted she was the mother of two U.Va. graduates, praised the University Police for their work and their contribution to the culture of the University. Schrad, who has been a journalist and an attorney, said she understands the risks and stresses with which they were working and denounced the notion that their duties consisted of simply locking and unlocking doors.
“You had a nuclear lab here, railroad tracks, large arenas where a lot of people come to watch events,” she said. “This is a big responsibility. And if people don’t see something go wrong, that’s because of you.”
She lamented that it took the death of a police officer at Virginia Tech to make many state officials realize that university police departments are on par with other police departments.
“I remind the legislators how important campus policing is, because the community of people you protect is not just the faculty and the staff, but the transient young people who come here to learn,” she said. “You work long hours, in all weather, with a hospital and Grounds to protect.”
The ceremony also featured a color guard from the University’s ROTC programs; a performance of the national anthem sung by Cynthia Murray, a motivational speaker and former assistant commonwealth’s attorney; and prayers by Rev. Mildred Best, director of the chaplaincy program at the Medical Center.
The University of Virginia employs approximately 150 people, including sworn police officers and a security staff, performing tasks from police work to monitoring security cameras placed across Grounds, providing security service to buildings, and engaging patients and visitors at the hospital and on Grounds.