2012 Award Winners

Lieutenant Michael Copeland and Firefighter/Paramedic Robert Prieto, Des Plaines Fire Department
At approximately 6:35pm on Friday, December 23, 2011, during a family holiday gathering at a townhouse in Des Plaines, a gas can was accidentally knocked over on the stairs leading to the basement.  Gas poured from the can onto and through the stairway.  Fumes were ignited by the water heater in the basement, causing a flash fire that ignited the walls, basement contents and stairs, which started spreading rapidly.

Two of the four family members that were in the basement were able to escape the flames, but a 14 month-old boy and his grandmother could not escape and were trapped.

Upon arrival of the Des Plaines Engine 62 to the complex’s parking lot, firefighters observed a working structure fire.   Bystanders were hysterically screaming that a baby, and possible others, were trapped in the basement. The fire was in a townhouse that was inaccessible from the street and located a very long distance from the parking area where the engine had to stop.

Fire Lieutenant Michael Copeland and Firefighter/Paramedic Robert Prieto grabbed some tools and a water fire extinguisher and hurried on foot to the involved structure while Engine 62’s driver/engineer started stretching hose the substantial distance to the fire.  On arrival at the occupancy, Copeland and Prieto observed a large body of fire on the stairs, with heavy smoke throughout.

Recognizing that the considerable delay of stretching the hose that long of a distance could prove deadly to the victims, the men hit the fire with the extinguisher, reducing it minimally, and then continued through the flames, at considerable personal risk, to enter the basement via the fire-compromised stairs.  Once in the basement, the two men conducted a search and soon found a female adult victim, the grandmother, who was unconscious and not breathing.  They carried her up the stairs and handed her off to other firefighters who carried her out of the building and started resuscitation efforts.

Without hesitation, Copeland and Prieto returned to the basement via the stairs and continued the search, finding the child, who was also unconscious and not breathing.  The boy was under a pile of clothes where the grandmother had placed him in an attempt to protect him from the smoke and flames.  The men brought the child upstairs and handed him to other firefighters who brought him outside and resuscitated him.

Both victims were revived and weeks later, were released from the hospital with no long-term effects.  The quick decision and selfless actions of Lieutenant Copeland and Fire/Paramedic Prieto, while under personal risk, clearly and directly saved the lives of these two victims.


Officer Del W. Pearson, Sergeant Christopher Kapa and Officer Kristen Lund, Chicago Police Department
On March, 19, 2012, Officer Del Pearson was working in the 004th District, in the south east area of Chicago, when he and his partner attempted to perform a street stop on four subjects.  Three of the subjects complied with the Officers’ directions but one fled on foot, with Officer Pearson giving chase.

Sergeant Christopher Kapa and Officer Kirsten Lund monitored a call of a foot pursuit from Officer Pearson who stated over the air that the subject he was chasing was holding his side.  After a brief pause, Officer Pearson called a “10-1 Shots Fired” followed by “I’m hit.”

Within seconds, Sergeant Kapa, Officer Lund and her partner arrived on the scene.  They observed Officer Pearson sitting on the parkway slumped to his left, covered in blood, and bleeding profusely from a chest wound.

Due to the seriousness of Officer Pearson’s wound, Sergeant Kapa made the courageous decision to order Officer Lund to assist him in getting Officer Pearson into the back seat of his vehicle to transport him to a hospital.  While Sergeant Kapa drove, Officer Lund was in the rear seat applying pressure to Officer Pearson’s wound while keeping him conscious and calm.

Sergeant Kapa told the dispatcher to notify the hospital to expect the wounded officer.  Upon arrival, assisting hospital personnel, Sergeant Kapa and Officer Lund pushed the critical officer into the emergency room to awaiting doctors and nurses.

Due to Sergeant Kapa and Officer Lund exhibiting heroic courage and outstanding selflessness in the face of a grave situation, it is without a doubt that their fast actions and devotion to duty saved the life of Officer Del Pearson.


Officer Edward Weissgerber, Brookfield Police Department
On April 2, 2012, Officer Edward Weissgerber responded to an apartment building for a well-being check. A call came to Police dispatch to have an Officerr meet with a young lady outside of the apartment building where she lived.  She advised that her step-brother had gone into her apartment to retrieve some belongings and after approximately 10 minutes was not answering his cell phone.  The complainant was fearful that her ex-boyfriend was in the apartment and that her brother may be in harm’s way.  She also advised that she had recently broken up with the ex-boyfriend and that he had threatened to kill her several times.

Upon arrival at the apartment, Officer Weissgerber knocked on the door which was answered by a male subject matching the ex-boyfriends description.  Once the door opened Officer Weissgerber noticed a large amount of blood on the floor just inside the apartment.  Officer Weissgerber attempted to enter the apartment when the subject closed the door in an attempt to keep Officer Weissgerber from entering.  Officer Weissgerber then forced the door open, drew his weapon and took the subject into custody.

During the handcuffing of the subject, Officer Weissgerber heard a person very faintly calling for help from the back bedroom.  Officer Weissgerber located the step-brother lying on the floor, next to a closet, under some blankets and covered in blood.  Officer Weissgerber secured the subject that was in custody and then approached the step-brother.  The step-brother had his hands tied together and there was a belt from a bathrobe tied around his neck and throat.  More material was torn from the bathrobe which was tied to a clothesline in the closet and attached to the material around his neck.  The step-brother was being choked due to his head being elevated.

Officer Weissgerber called for medical assistance and began cutting the material away from the step-brother.  He administered first aid until paramedics arrived.  It was discovered that the step-brother had been stabbed with a knife seven times throughout his throat, groin and chest.  Once at the hospital, the step-brother was only given 24 hours to live due to the extent of his injuries.  He fought through his injuries and six weeks after being admitted, he was able to walk out of Loyola Hospital and expected to have a full recovery.

What made this action by Officer Weissgerber especially heroic is that due to the heavy call volume that evening, he handled this incident by himself, with no back-up on the scene.  Officer Weissgerber’s prompt response and actions performed is the sole reason the step-brother is alive today.

The ex-boyfriend was formally charged with 20 felony counts ranging from Attempted Murder, Aggravated Battery, Unlawful Restraining and Kidnapping.  He is a convicted felon who was on parole for felonious offenses in Kentucky.


Paramedic-in-Charge John J. Wodzisz and Fire Paramedic Sergio A. Moreno, Chicago Fire Department
At approximately 6:00pm on May 24, 2012, Paramedic-in-Charge John Wodzisz and Fire Paramedic Sergio Moreno responded to a “Person in the Water” incident at Touhy and the Lake.

While en route, Paramedic-in-Charge Wodzisz noticed a crowd hailing the ambulance for help at Greenleaf and Lake.  Paramedic-in-Charge Wodzisz immediately notified the Office of Emergency Management and Communications of the corrected location, giving specific direction of egress to responding companies.  Paramedic-in-Charge Wodzisz also reported that there were two civilians hanging on to the the break wall approximately 70 to 80 feet out.

Realizing that all other companies were at Touhy and the Lake, and assessing that these two civilians were in clear and eminent danger, Paramedic-in-Charge Wodzisz and Fire Paramedic Moreno dove into the frigid waters braving high wind and waves.  They brought the two civilians to safety, without hesitation or fear for their own lives.