45 local first responders get Awards of Valor

Posted: September 21, 2012

Officer Montess Trapp of the Upper Darby Police Department didn't think about what could happen to him as he raced into a burning home while on patrol five months ago.

As Trapp arrived at the fire scene in April, the sound of a little girl screaming triggered his "instincts as a parent, instincts as a human," compelling him to run into the smoke-filled house on the 3800 block of Marshall Road and save the 4-year-old.

Trapp and Officer Kelly Seace, who joined in the rescue, were among 45 police officers, firefighters, and corrections officers honored Thursday evening at the Awards of Valor Ceremony at the National Liberty Museum in Old City. One Philadelphia police officer received two awards.

"Police officers and firefighters face danger all the time, and [these] are some of the extraordinary times," Gwen Borowsky, chief executive officer of the museum, said in an interview. "We want people to respect police and firefighters."

Thursday's ceremony was the seventh at the museum. Many of this year's recipients were part of teams, and the ceremony featured 17 stories of courage from the officers and firefighters. The recipients are nominated by their departments, and a committee helps choose who receives the awards.

Trapp, 31, has been an officer for three years and is a volunteer firefighter with the Garrettford-Drexel Hill Fire Company. While at first he didn't think about the dangers of running into the fire without protective gear, he said, he has thought about every negative possibility since the fire, which killed the girl's mother.

The fire has increased his awareness at work, Trapp said, and glows from streetlights now make him take a second look.

"I can't say it hasn't affected me," Trapp said. The event "has made me better at my job."

Also honored was Temple University Police Officer Brian Kennelly. Along with four other Temple officers and a Philadelphia officer, Kennelly, 27, responded to a June 7, 2011, explosion at the Amtrak station in North Philadelphia after a railroad employee was shocked by an overhead power line.

Kennelly was in the parking lot at the time. He jumped over a wrought-iron fence and climbed a steep embankment to find that the worker was "not breathing, was blue, and had a faint pulse."

Officers worked on the victim and brought him down the embankment before he was taken to the hospital; he survived. Kennelly said that after the accident, the family sent the officers a letter and card thanking them.

Kennelly said the danger didn't strike him at the time.

"That's what our job is," he said. "You don't have a second to think."

Lt. Michael Wellock's crew was initially on its own at a fire at an independent-living facility in West Philadelphia in February 2011, after being dispatched for an alarm.

"While we were working our way in with the [hose] line and getting people out, my driver actually had to break through some grated windows and got two people out of the apartment right next door to the actual fire apartment," said Wellock, 60.

Wellock and the three other firefighters on his crew from Engine 5, on the 4200 block of Market Street, were among 11 firefighters and paramedics recognized at the ceremony.

Three officers from the 24th District were recognized for a situation in October 2011 in which one of the officers was shot at.

Officer Jennifer Welch, while responding to a shooting and robbery in Kensington, was fired at. She returned fire, hitting the gunman in the chest. Officers Paul Groves and James Martin ran to Welch's aid, tackling the gunman and recovering the weapon.

"You think about [the danger] when you're headed to the job," said Martin, 30, "but sometimes things happen so fast, you don't have time to react until after the situation's actually over." Martin was also honored for his quick response at a Port Richmond crime scene in September 2011.


Contact Sean Carlin at carlins@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @SeanCarlin84.

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