HOLMBERG: Should deputy lose his job over ‘inaccurate’ rescue story?

Posted at 1:04 AM, Sep 26, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-26 01:04:35-04

POWHATAN, Va. (WTVR)--On Sunday, Powhatan Sheriff’s Deputy Harley Crawford told CBS 6 and another news outlet about pulling a motorist out of a crashed car that had caught on fire two nights earlier.

Now he’s out of a job after his department investigated the incident.

“The investigation has revealed that the statements made by the deputy in reference to this incident were found to be inaccurate,” the sheriff’s office reported in a statement Wednesday. “Due to this being an on-going personnel issue, no further comment will be made concerning this matter.”

Crawford told CBS 6 in a phone interview that he was forced to resign. The problem, he said he was told, was the motorist was already out of the car when he assisted him to safety.

“When you are in a situation where there is a lot of fear and anxiety and adrenalin you remember certain things, you forget certain things,” Crawford said.

So why is this something you could lose your job over?

Apart from the need to make accurate statements, heroism is highly valued among police, firefighters, medics, members of the military and other government agencies.

That’s why awards for valor are carefully vetted before they’re handed out – to make sure recipients are worthy.  Military medals, for example, come with the signatures of the officers who are vouching for their veracity.

Even heroism awards given to citizens, like those the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission hand out annually, are investigated to make sure the stories are clear - after the heat of the moment – and the right people are commended.

There’s a whole industry - “Stolen Valor” - devoted to making sure those who claim military combat service and medals are telling the truth.

All too many people wish to be heroes.

Yes, most citizens might not see a significant difference between pulling someone out of a  burning car, and helping move someone already out of an engulfed vehicle.

Both acts are what any police officer,  firefighter or medic could be expected to do . . . hopefully, any citizen as well.

I believe there’s a general formula when it comes to heroic acts – the riskier and more “heroic” it is – the less likely the rescuer  is to talk about it.

I remember arriving on the scene of a horrible house on N. 1st Street in Jackson Ward years ago. Janice Edwards had come home from her job at a uniform factory and was reaching for her front door when the whole place blew up and caught fire (gas stove leak).

She had to watch, horrified, screaming that her whole family was inside, as arriving Richmond firefighters raced up ladders into the upstairs of the burning house. It was perhaps the bravest thing I’ve ever seen.

One after another, firefighters came dashing out of the flames, one holding a burned child, then another. Then two firefighters tumbled out of the door with Janice’s husband.

All three of Janice’s children and her husband died, despite the firefighters’ best efforts.

There were no mentions of heroics or citations for valor. After all,  the victims weren’t really rescued – they perished.

The firefighters’ reward? They carried the victims one more time – as pallbearers.

This is why stories of heroism are so carefully guarded.

One of my friends served two combat tours in Vietnam. He’s fond of saying that there are no live heroes – just dead ones who gave their lives to save others.

Everyone else is just a good person who did the right thing.