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Deputies honored for saving couple from house fire

MANATEE -- With smoke billowing from a residence and a faint voice calling for help, three Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies rescued an elderly paralyzed woman, her husband and their pet cats this year.

At the 16th Annual Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Awards, Deputies Bryce Meade, Michael Gerholdt and John Lawson were honored for their bravery as Deputies of the Year for responding to an abandoned 911 call in January that turned out to be a house fire.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” said Meade, who was about to start her patrol shift after the luncheon. “This kind of thing just doesn’t happen. ... My heart just dropped to my stomach. ... I heard this faint call, ‘I’m in here.’”

Meade was able to find a hallway door in the smoke and saw the glow of flames coming from a hospital bed where the woman was lying still hooked to medical machines.

Meade ducked back outside the home for air and re-entered with Deputy John Lawson, who was a recruit at the time. The two helped carry the woman to safety. They found the woman’s husband, who refused to leave, trying to put the fire out with a pot of water. An oxygen machine was on fire.

“He wouldn’t leave. He just said, ‘No, I’ve got to get this fire out,’” Meade said.

The man was removed by Lawson with Mead peeling the man’s fingers away from the wall he was clutching.

Gerholdt was able to enter through the rear of the residence to free the cats.

In interviews, all three deputies said none of them thought twice about entering the home to save the couple.

“That’s what I signed up for,” Meade said. “I wanted to help people.”

Sheriff Brad Steube commended the deputies and what others do daily in law enforcement.

“Most people are running out of the house where our deputies are running in to save people. ... You (deputies) continue to go out, and do things that you have to do, and do it willingly. And you do it because you have a great heart,” he said.

Bealls Department Store rewarded them with $500 checks.

The deputies and other award recipients were selected by the Officer Improvement Committee, a board comprised of about 20 sheriff’s office employees.

Other awards and recipients included:

n Sandra Dickerman, executive secretary for north patrol, Employee of the Year. Dickerman received the award after she helped co-workers going through tough times by providing gifts at Christmas and raising money for funeral costs after the death of a family member.

n Yvonne Gard, executive secretary for enforcement, Bealls Humanitarian Award. Gard received the award after she was involved and helped coordinate numerous charitable events.

n Bill Vanderzee, volunteer, Robert E. Molter Memorial Volunteer Award. Vanderzee was honored as a volunteer for seven years of service. He assists in patrol related duties.