On Wednesday, February 20, Vice President Joe Biden awarded 18 peace officers the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor. Like the Congressional Medal of Honor for the military, the medal is the highest award for valor.  It is awarded to public safety officers and firefighters “whose actions have exhibited exceptional courage, regardless of their personal safety, in an attempt to save or protect a human life.”

During the emotional ceremony, Biden made the following comments:

“…what makes you do what you do? I am just thankful that you do. You can’t explain it, but you know it when you see it. I see it in the shield over someone’s heart. I see it in the men and women who are sitting here before us today. Thank God for you. You’re from different backgrounds, but you’re the glue that that literally binds communities together at times of stress. You’re that face that shows up for a woman on the second floor of a burning building when she thinks it’s all over for her. The amazing thing about all of you is that the very things you do when you’re on duty to save people’s lives, you do it when you are off duty. There’s no separation.”

Biden honored the families, friends, and colleagues of the officers who were posthumously awarded.  Deputy Sheriffs Cameron Justus and William Stiltner of Virginia; Trooper Joshua Miller of the Pennsylvania State Police; and Sergeant Thomas Baitinger  of the St. Petersburg (FL) Police Department are among the fallen officers who have received the Medal of Valor.

Deputies Justus and Stiltner were killed while trying to save their fellow officers from a sniper; and Trooper Miller was shot and killed by an armed gunman who had abducted a 9 -year old child. The child was rescued, unharmed.cvb  Sgt. Baitinger was shot and killed by a violent fugitive while trying to save several officers who had already been shot by the crazed gunman.

Reeshemah Taylor was recognized for her part in apprehending a violent felon who had attempted to escape the Osceola County (FL) Jail.

Krista McDonald of Kitsap County, Washington State was trying to rescue fellow officers who had shot by an armed gunman who had taken a 13 year old girl hostage. Sadly, the guman shot the girl and himself, but the injured officers survived.

“I think there is a fine line between bravery and stupidity,” McDonald said. “We put ourselves out there, without knowing who is going to harm us, or if it is the day that we won’t make it home.”

Firefighter Hope Scott, Battalion Chief William Reynolds of Virginia Beach Fire Department, and NYFD David Demontreux are among the firefighters that have received the Medal of Valor. Demontreux rescued a man from an apartment fire and was badly burned in the process.

In order to receive the Medal of Valor, public safety officers must be nominated by the chief executive officer of their employing agencies, recommended by the bipartisan Medal of Valor Review Board, and cited by the Attorney General. More information about the award is available at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/medalofvalor.

78 individuals have received the Medal of Valor since the first recipients were honored in 2003.

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