Split-second decisions turned Vancouver civilians into life-saving heroes

Average citizens and VPD members honoured at 2018 commendation ceremony

A woman attempting to take her own life in English Bay, a man set on plunging off the Lions Gate and a knife-wielding individual randomly stabbing passersby.

Each of these incidents were contained and dealt with thanks to Vancouverites acting on split-second instincts.

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And for those efforts, the Vancouver Police Department, Mayor Gregor Robertson and Lt.-Gov. Judy Guichon were among those who said thanks Thursday by awarding some of the highest civilian honours given to both residents and members of the VPD.

“You are the action people,” Guichon said. “The rest of us can talk, debate and pontificate, but when it is all said and done, you are the ones that take the action. You pick up the pieces and you cope with the realities out there in the everyday world.”

The annual VPD Commendation Ceremony at the Roundhouse Community Centre was like a best-of compilation of acts of bravery, selflessness and reflex-like decisions that saved the lives of others.

Emilie Stevens, for example, was walking home along the Granville Street Bridge last summer when she came upon a woman attempting to take her own life. Stevens called 911 as the woman was in the midst of climbing over the guardrails, preparing to jump.

Stevens intervened and contained the distraught woman until VPD officers arrived. Even more remarkably, Stevens was seven months pregnant at the time.

Emilie Stevens, who was seven months pregnant at the time, stopped a woman from jumping of the Granv
Emilie Stevens, who was seven months pregnant at the time, stopped a distraught woman from jumping off the Granville Bridge. Photo Jessica Kerr

Susan Chambers and Charlotte Tardits were at English Bay in May 2017 when they noticed a woman 50 metres off shore in distress. Both women swam in to save her life.

Those acts garnered the women an Award of Merit, which is given to citizens who, in the face of their own danger, take it upon themselves to save lives or assist police in doing so.

Both sworn and civilian members of the VPDwere also heralded via distinctions known as the Chief Constable’s Commendations, the Chief Constable’s Citation, Police Officer of the Year and Civilian of the Year.

Chief Constable’s Commendations winners included the trio of Albert Lu, Greg Parkes and Ann Fontaine. The three found themselves in the 400 block of Gore Street in mid-April 2015, responding to man weaving through pedestrian and vehicle traffic with a knife. He had stabbed three people prior to their arrival and stabbed another when they showed up on the scene. Fontaine administered first aid to the stabbing victim, effectively saving her life.

A group of 10 officers received the Chief Constable’s Citation for their coordinated efforts in saving a suicidal man’s life on the Lions Gate Bridge. The officers arrived to the man outside the bridge railing, facing outwards towards the water with his hands behind him. As he appeared poised to jump, each officer was assigned to different part of his body grabbed on. One officer went over the bridge railing and pulled him to safety.

The top individual honours were saved for last, with Sgt. Peter Sadler receiving Police Officer of the Year and Jimmy Hnam receiving Civilian of the Year. Sadler’s 35-year career now finds him focusing almost exclusively on fentanyl and those in mid-and street-level tracking circles. He initiated and supervised 27 operations in the Downtown Eastside in the three years spanning 2014 to 2107.

Vancouver Police Department Sgt. Peter Sadler was awarded the 2017 Police Officer of the Year Award,
Vancouver Police Department Sgt. Peter Sadler was awarded the 2017 Police Officer of the Year Award, recognizing his 35-year career with the VPD. Photo Jessica Kerr

Hnam’s 16-year tenure with the VPD has seen him become one the department’s go-to IT guys. He’s developed databases and records management systems and became increasingly focused on mental health initiatives in 2013.

Since then Hnam has created an early warning system to track people living with mental illness who are most at risk to cause harm to themselves or others. He also created a template to capture the amount of patrol calls with a mental health component, which helps the department allocate resources and responses to those calls.

“Today, as we’re standing here on this Thursday, we’ll answer about 700 calls for service here in Vancouver,” Police Chief Adam Palmer said. “It’s easy in a free society and a safe city like Vancouver to sometimes take that for granted but I can say that I’m proud of each and every member of the Vancouver Police Department, sworn and civilian, for their dedication and commitment.”  

@JohnKurucz

jkurucz@vancourier.com

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