David Watkins, Jr., Mississippi County Sheriff’s Office

On March 10, 2017, a team from the Mississippi County Sheriff’s Office was serving a search warrant to a convicted felon suspected of narcotics trafficking at a second-story apartment in Wyatt, Mo. Lieutenant Watkins had the lead as the team announced their presence and breached the apartment door. Lieutenant Watkins entered the front door and immediately took fire from the suspect. Other members of the entry team were forced to take cover on the ground outside. Shot in the left leg, and trapped in the apartment with the gunman, Lieutenant Watkins crawled into a nearby room. Unable to stand, he sat against a wall. Outside, his team called for Lieutenant Watkins. Watkins did not answer so as not to reveal his position to the gunman. The gunman, still armed with an AR-15, walked to the front door, where officers were taking cover, and looked outside. He then turned and saw Lieutenant Watkins and began raising his weapon. Lieutenant Watkins fired his weapon striking the gunman in the upper torso, ending the threat to him and the other officers. Watkins then staggered to his feet and held the gunman at gunpoint until his team members took control of the scene. While under fire and while wounded, Lieutenant Watkins demonstrated incredible courage while trapped inside an apartment with a gunman.

Leon Whitener III, St. Louis Fire Department

On April 22, 2017, a call went out for a structure fire with a person trapped in St. Louis’s Botanical Heights neighborhood. The closest fire station was responding to an earlier reported fire, so there would be a delay in the first company’s arrival. Captain Whitener, who was off duty, immediately responded. He found thick gray smoke pouring out of the two-story residential building. Residents outside the building told him a wheelchair-bound tenant was trapped on the second floor. Captain Whitener charged into the building and up the stairs without any protective equipment. He was followed by a tenant from another unit in the building, Raymond Rayford. The smoke was filling the hallway. Smoke billowed into the room where they found the woman in her wheelchair. She futilely covered her face to try to block out the smoke. Captain Whitener knew time was short because the smoke was building pressure in the room. They pushed the wheelchair to the apartment doorway but furniture blocked the exit. Mr. Rayford threw the furniture out of the apartment to clear a path. Whitener and Rayford then hoisted the wheelchair over the stair railing and down the stair, careful to protect the woman. Once outside, they heard glass shattering. The fire had grown tremendously and was now venting itself out of the room from which they had just rescued the woman. Captain Whitener’s swift and decisive action while off-duty resulted in the rescue of an elderly disabled woman who could not have survived on her own.

Logan Benjamin, Vandalia Police Department

On June 19, 2017, Corporal Benjamin responded to a residence to check on the welfare of a man who had been texting an ex-girlfriend that he was considering suicide. When he knocked on the front door, Corporal Benjamin heard a loud thud and gasping coming from inside. Corporal Benjamin immediately made entry and found a man hanging from a support beam from a belt that was around his neck. Corporal Benjamin grabbed the man around the legs and waist and lifted him to prevent certain strangulation. But the man repeatedly hit Benjamin in the head. Struggling to prop the man up, Benjamin’s portable radio microphone was knocked off, preventing him from calling for assistance. Despite the man continuing to fight violently, Benjamin managed to call for assistance and used his tactical knife to cut the belt the man was hanging from. As both men fell to the ground, the suicidal man went for Benjamin’s knife. Benjamin drew his service pistol and commanded the man to stop trying to hurt himself and Benjamin. The suicidal man complied and was transported to a hospital for a mental health evaluation. This man remains alive and well to this day because of Corporal Benjamin’s quick thinking and unwavering determination.

Michelle L. Vogel, Missouri Department of Corrections

On the night of Aug. 5, 2017, Corrections Officer Vogel was off duty when a window air conditioner caught fire in an apartment in Vogel’s apartment complex. Officer Vogel rushed into the burning building. The fire had spread throughout most of the first floor of the apartment. Inside, through thick smoke, and intense heat and flames, Officer Vogel searched to find anyone who might be trapped. As a result of her search, she found a four-year-old girl, who she quickly got out of the building to safety. Officer Vogel also made sure everyone else was out of the burning building. Outside, the girl’s mother, who was pregnant, was having trouble breathing. Officer Vogel attended to the mother until EMS arrived on the scene. Officer Vogel later took children’s clothing to the family to assist them in the aftermath of the fire. While off duty, Officer Vogel acted without hesitation and reached a young child trapped in a burning residence long before firefighters could have reached the trapped child.