While firefighters don’t serve the public to win awards, there are times when action taken above and beyond is worthy of recognition. Such is the case of LAFD Firefighter/Paramedic Dan Apodaca, who was awarded the Medal of Valor for a brave rescue performed while off-duty. He also received a Certificate of Appreciation for his life-saving action during an on-duty call.
While fishing for bass at Diamond Valley Lake near Hemet, Dan found himself facing increasing wind speeds. The lake was eventually closed to boaters due to the weather conditions. As Dan fought his way back to shore, he spotted a man in the water waving to him.
“What followed was a gut-wrenching rescue effort that was worthy of a dramatic Hollywood movie scene,” said LAFD Public Information Officer Dan Curry in his presentation to the Fire Commission. The man who flagged down Dan Apodaca was one of three who had been in a boat that capsized. Two of the men were still clinging to the boat, one unresponsive. With lots of careful maneuvering, even damaging his own craft in the process, Dan managed to get all three men aboard and even retrieved some of their belongings. If Dan hadn’t decided to go fishing despite the winds, those three men may have never made it back to shore.
“For members who have demonstrated bravery at great personal risk to his or her own life, beyond a doubt and clearly above the call of duty,” stated Dan Curry, “whether on or off duty, as determined by a Board of Honorary Awards and in concurrence of the Fire Chief, that member shall be awarded the highest honor: the Medal of Valor.”
The on-duty incident involved Dan Apodaca and fellow firefighter/paramedic Ryan Sanders responding to a call from a woman complaining of severe chest pain. The woman, Noel Sweitzer, initially didn’t want to be transported to a hospital. The paramedics insisted, though. That insistence saved her life. While on the operation table at Good Samaritan Hospital, her aorta tore open. Without the expert cardiac team already on hand, it’s unlikely she would have made it. Ms. Sweitzer was at the presentation to thank the paramedics “for their actions in convincing her to go to the hospital–and getting her to probably the only place she could have survived such a catastrophic event in the nick of time.”
Firefighters save lives every day and rarely receive recognition for their actions. However, these two incidents show that Dan Apodaca truly went above and beyond even the normal bravery we associate with these real-life heroes. The honors he received are truly deserved.
By Jody Houser