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39 Officers, Firefighters Receive Heroes Awards of Valor

39 Officers, Firefighters Receive Heroes Awards of Valor

Philadelphia Inquirer via YellowBrix

September 16, 2010

PHILADELPHIA – There were moments when Upper Darby Police Officer Raymond Blohm thought about quitting his dream job and never returning to the streets again.

“I had doubts and, yes, a lot of sleepless nights at first,” he said of a shooting this year that left him injured and struggling with questions about his career.

Blohm was among 39 police officers and firefighters from Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania suburbs, and Delaware who received Heroes Awards of Valor at the National Liberty Museum on Wednesday night. It was the fifth year that the Center City museum had honored these men and women – and an occasional canine – for their courage and service.

“What these guys do is just extraordinary heroism,” said Doug Tozour, president of the National Liberty Museum. “The policemen and firefighters risk their lives without a thought. That’s what heroism is all about. This award will help to get them a little more recognition.”

The honorees are traditionally chosen by the heads of the Fire and Police Departments.

“We could have named hundreds more,” Philadelphia Fire Capt. Kevin O’Mally said.

On May 21, life changed for Blohm, a decorated 10-year police veteran and the married father of two girls, ages 3 and 5.

As he was running after a drug dealer in Ridley Township, Blohm was shot four times; two bullets struck him in his back, just below his police vest. Seriously wounded, he returned fire and later caught the suspect.

Although he was honored for his actions, Blohm said his life afterward had not been heroic. He is still on medical leave, and it’s unclear when he will return to the force.

“I’m receiving therapy,” Blohm, 33, said. "When you become a police officer, you don’t expect something like this to happen, but when it does, it’s all different.

“I’m the same person, the same cop, and I miss the guys. But, honestly, I don’t know how it feels to do the same job,” he said, mentioning that he might get a job other than patrol officer. At least, “I have to give it a try.”

Capt. Richard Meagher, 49, and four other members of Ladder 13 in Philadelphia were among 22 firefighters honored. When Meagher and the crew responded to a medical call from a home on Chester Avenue on July 18, 2009, they found a 9-month-old girl in a bedroom. She had stopped breathing.

Using CPR and a defibrillator, they brought the child back to life. It was the first time the Fire Department had used a defibrillator on such a young child.

“When the heart pumped again, that was a thrilling moment,” said Meagher, an 18-year veteran. “It’s different if you help a baby. Life just seems so vibrant.”

But Meagher, like Blohm, would not describe himself or his crew as heroes. “I’m not a hero. We were expected to do that,” he said.

Many of the police officers honored Wednesday said what they were seeking most was respect from the public for their work and the work of law enforcement locally and nationwide.

“The police industry, nationwide, got some negative stories lately,” said Lt. Norman Davenport of the Philadelphia Police Homicide Unit, which received a team award for its efforts to reduce the homicide rate in the city. “This will have a tremendous impact on the morale.”

Homicides in the city fell from 332 in 2008 to 302 in 2009. The Police Department Homicide Unit had a 76 percent clearance rate last year, up from 60 percent in 2008.

“This is the result of an outstanding team effort. We usually don’t get much help from the community to solve the cases,” Davenport said.

Philadelphia Police Officer Julius Caesar was honored for his work in apprehending a suspect during a shooting and high-speed chase in West Philadelphia in 2009. The suspect fired a gun at Caesar but missed.

“There are a lot of good cops out there who should earn a little more public recognition” Caesar, 35, said.

“I have been on the job for 13 years and never got shot. I was lucky that he missed me.” Caesar returned to work the next day.

Many of those honored said that there was “an increasing lack of respect for law enforcement,” and that “the streets are getting tougher.”

Even police dogs have a rough job these days.

Diablo, a specially trained Belgian Malinois who supports the patrol and narcotic units of the New Castle County Police Department, received the K-9 Hero Award.

The dog, on the job for only seven weeks, was shot by a robbery suspect who was being pursued by police in the woods of North Wilmington last year. Diablo recovered and is back on the streets.

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