An apartment complex engulfed in flames, a sniper, residents trapped in their homes--any of those would be a nightmare.
But Orange County Sheriff's Sgt. Michael Harnish and his crew of five deputies braved all three simultaneously last August, earning them the sheriff's Medal of Courage at a ceremony Wednesday.
They were among 24 people cited for outstanding achievement and exceptional performance in the categories of courage, merit and lifesaving. About 500 law enforcement officers, friends and family members gathered at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim to honor them at the 11th annual ceremony.
"If you ask any of these officers why they did it," Sheriff Mike Carona said, "they'll give you the same response: 'It's all in a day's work. I did what I was supposed to do.'
"But what makes it special is they did it because they believed. Each officer on this stage, and in the audience, is committed to improving the lives of the people in Orange County."
Harnish and his crew--Deputies James Guarneri, Joe McClintock, Ed Wood, Jeffery Puskas and Michael Jensen--knew when they responded to the fire in San Clemente that one person had already been fatally shot and that another had been attacked with a baseball bat.
McClintock, who had to kick down a metal door to reach a trapped resident, recalled the confusion of not knowing the identity of the person who had started the blaze. When he came across a woman in the burning building, he said, "I had to make a split-second decision that she wasn't the suspect. . . . Either way, I had to save her."
Also honored Wednesday were:
* McClintock and Deputy Dominic Montalbano, for saving a person trapped in a burning vehicle.
* Investigators Gary Horn, Andrew Ferguson and Dominick DeRado and Deputies Guarneri, Steven Dexter and Robert Dunham, for cracking a large interstate drug ring in San Clemente. Their raid netted $430,000 in cash, the largest single cash catch made by the Sheriff's Department.
* Special Officer Lynda Laster, who, along with Deputy Michael Russell, gave CPR for nine minutes to a man who had collapsed at John Wayne Airport.
* Deputy John Cooper, for providing CPR to a woman who had stopped breathing.
* Deputy Kurt Bourne, for entering a burning apartment to search for occupants.
* Telecommunications engineer Nicolas Condaras, for leadership in implementing the county's new emergency system.
* Deputy Derek Rivas, who saved a person in an overturned vehicle.
* Special Officers Frank Martinez and James Dahl, who resuscitated a man in cardiac arrest.
* Deputies Eric Nester and James Vaughn, who saved a woman who had stopped breathing.
* Deputy Bradley Fowler, who rescued a man in a burning car by breaking the window, bending the door back and pulling the man out.
* Vocational instructor Robert Fry, for pushing an inmate away from an exposed 220-volt electrical wire that he was pinned against.