Police officer, firefighter receive medal of valor
Jan. 10, 2013 at 10:02 p.m.
Updated Jan. 9, 2013 at 7:10 p.m.
Billy Bernard and Adam Luther were driving north on Nursery Drive, on their way to Turkeyfest on Oct. 12.
Friends, the Victoria police officer and firefighter, were looking forward to the evening off from jobs that demand they put the lives of others before their own.
But when they saw smoke coming from U.S. Highway 87, they immediately pulled their vehicle over, leaving it running and the doors open as they ran across the ditch.
As a three-vehicle accident came into view, the men did not hesitate to crawl into a burning SUV to rescue an unconscious man - and then crawl back into the car to make sure no one else was inside.
"I don't even remember getting into the car. The fire was right there," said Luther, a firefighter, holding his hand next to his face to demonstrate. "A few more seconds and I wouldn't be standing here."
When Fire Chief Taner Drake heard later that night how the off-duty men acted, he said he got goosebumps.
"First responders, they do that on a daily basis, but usually they have the protection of their equipment, their uniforms ... these guys were like civilians in this thing," Drake said. "But they still took those actions they would have any other day."
Both he and Police Chief J.J. Craig knew the men had to be recognized, which is why the departments awarded Bernard and Luther Medals of Valor - one of the highest honors in law enforcement - Thursday night at the Second Annual Public Safety Banquet for police and firefighters.
Neither department has awarded the medal since the floods of 1998.
"There is no doubt that William Bernard and Capt. Adam Luther, their actions directly saved the life of that young man. He was unconscious, the car was on fire, and if they would not have taken action, there would have been a fatality that night," Drake said.
Drake and Craig said advisory boards in each department unanimously approved the awards.
"That says a lot because most of those same folks who are making those decisions, they tend to think they are just doing their job," Drake said.
And that is just what they were doing.
"I don't remember being scared or nervous," Bernard, a five-year veteran of the police department, said.
The men also pulled a woman from a second vehicle before it caught on fire.
"I just felt joy and excitement, and am honored to be a wife of someone who isn't afraid to help others," his wife, Kristi Bernard, said about the award.
The departments also honored civilians, officers, firefighters and dispatchers during the banquet.