LAFD Presents the Medal of Valor

Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Los Angeles

This morning the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) was honored to acknowledge two incidents worthy of recognition. One was an on-duty EMS incident and the other was an off-duty lake rescue, but they had one thing in common, an outstanding LAFD member.

Firefighter/Paramedic (FF/PM) Daniel Apodaca is currently assigned to Fire Station 20, but on the date of our first story he was working on Rescue 15 in South Los Angeles with FF/PM Ryan Sanders. At 9:47 A.M. on December 11, 2014, they arrived on scene in just three minutes to find Noel Sweitzer suffering from severe chest pain. In their 20 minutes on scene, they performed a thorough medical assessment, obtained vital signs, followed Standing Field Treatment Protocols, administered doses of aspirin and nitroglycerin, and obtained several 12-lead EKG’s.  

Despite her complaints, Ms. Sweitzer had little intention of being transported to the hospital.  FF/PM Apodaca would not take no for an answer, and Ms. Sweitzer was en route to Good Samaritan Hospital at 10:10 A.M. The choice of hospital was no accident. Apodaca determined Ms. Sweitzer’s symptoms were indicative of a heart attack, and Good Sam has a state-of-the-art cardiac catheterization lab. The hospitals cardiac team were quickly notified, assembled, and ready. The elevator doors opened almost on cue for her as she was whisked upstairs to the cath lab.

What has been described so far is fairly routine: A patient with chest pain. A patient that does not want to go to the hospital. Paramedics that ensure they do not leave a sick patient behind. 

Things tragically worsened, Ms. Sweitzer’s aorta tore open while on the operating table, and she went into cardiac arrest. However, due to an accurate pre-hospital assessment, rapid treatment and transportation to the appropriate facility along with Good Sam’s talented cardiac surgery team, her life was saved. 

This morning, Ms. Noel Sweitzer came to LAFD's Fire Commission meeting to commend FF/PM’s Sanders and Apodaca for their actions in convincing her to go to the hospital...

Fortune was involved in our second story as well.  On June 16, 2014, FF/PM Apodaca set out for a day of bass fishing at Diamond Valley Lake near Hemet.  He knew that windy conditions were expected, but he likely wouldn’t have gone had he known how dangerous it would really get. 

Daniel arrived at 6:30 A.M., to find whitecaps on the lake. Weather conditions rapidly deteriorated, and just after 10:00 A.M. the lake was shut down and all boaters were told to return to shore. 

FF/PM Apodaca battled gale-force winds and pounding waves as he cautiously worked his way across the lake to the launch ramp.  Due to the extreme conditions he navigated largely via GPS, however while fighting his way back he was able to make out the head of a man in the water who was frantically waving at him. What followed was an intense rescue effort.  

The weather turned so severe that it capsized a rental boat, and Daniel found two additional men clinging to it. Apodaca's efforts to position the boat near the three men seemed endless – every turn of the steering wheel was more than countered by powerful wind gusts that were later confirmed at 90 mph.  Shifting of gears from forward, to reverse, to neutral, almost always needed to be followed by more shifting, more steering, more positioning.  Due to his persistence he was finally able to rescue the first man and pull him to safety in the boat.

Of the two remaining victims hanging onto the capsized boat, one did not appear to be responsive.  FF/PM Apodaca repeated the relentless steering and shifting until reaching the second man and saving him from the perilous waters and bringing him aboard his boat. 

Then Daniel had to steer his boat right up to the capsized vessel to reach the third man.  In doing so, he damaged the fiberglass bottom of his boat, but he was able to pull the victim on board. He was lethargic, turning hypothermic, but he was breathing. 

Then Daniel even retrieved a large water-logged tackle bag, a backpack and a pair of boots out of the water.

Three exhausted, cold, wet, but grateful men slowly warmed up in the back of Daniel’s boat as he took them to safety.  

A Board of Honorary Awards thoroughly investigated this incident and determined an award commensurate with the actions of Apodaca. The Board submitted a report in detail of its findings and recommendations to the Fire Chief, who concurred. 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, whether on or off duty, such as FF/PM Apodaca, they are awarded the highest honor – the Medal of Valor.

Share this