Thirteen-year-old Alex Garcia III is shy and small in stature, but he brought nearly 200 of southwest Riverside County's cops, firefighters, paramedics, 911 dispatchers, and officials to their feet Friday night during the eighth annual “Heroes with Heart” awards dinner.
Hosted by the Trauma Intervention Programs Southwest Riverside County Chapter, the event was held at The Diamond in Lake Elsinore. One service organization and 14 individual first responders—including a Murrieta firefighter and a Murrieta police detective—were honored for going above and beyond the call of duty to save lives.
Alex, of Lake Elsinore, was the man of the hour at the gala.
In June, the Terra Cotta Middle School student was begging his mom for permission to go swimming at the community pool in their apartment complex. She was reluctant because the family was celebrating the birthday of Alex’s older sister and company was on its way.
“She didn’t want me to go, but she let me. And it was weird, because I felt like something was going to go wrong,” Alex said.
Once at the pool, he watched as his adult neighbor jumped into the water with a boogie board.
“His head kind of snapped back and he hit it on the board,” Alex explained. “I asked if he was ok and he didn’t respond.”
Alex had taken a junior lifeguard class in Orange County, so he went into rescue mode: The teen worked to get the man to the side of the pool, but the injured swimmer couldn’t grab onto the ledge.
“His arm was like spaghetti,” Alex said. “I didn’t know if he was alive.”
Instead, the teen led the man to the pool’s stairs. As Alex and his mom waited for paramedics to arrive, the man was clearly injured.
“He went in and out of consciousness,” said Alex's mother, Araceli Garcia.
But the story has a happy ending: Although the man suffered a broken neck, he recovered and escaped paralysis, Garcia said.
“He’s in physical therapy but he can walk and go back to work,” she said.
In the eyes of the men and women in uniform, Alex is a hero: They gave him a standing ovation Friday night, and Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff personally thanked the teen for his gallant act.
Most of those honored Friday were police officers, fire officials, 911 dispatchers or paramedics.
Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Gabriel Constantin was honored for saving the life of a 77-year-old woman who became severely dehydrated and disoriented one summer day this year.
The woman had her bus to a local senior living home, and Constantin spotted her in the Lake Elsinore Walmart parking lot and knew something was wrong. He got her some water, moved her into his squad car and called paramedics in.
Christopher Brown, a paramedic with American Medical Response, was also honored. He was off duty earlier this year when he checked in on a local elderly man who had required AMR's services in the past.
The senior citizen has no local family. He confided in Brown and said he had been experiencing chest pain. Brown immediately called in the forces, and as it turned out the man was suffering a heart attack.
“It’s a gift,” Brown said of the opportunity to save lives, but he thanked the TIP volunteers. “You are my true heroes.”
Brown has seen TIP volunteers in action. They are called out to investigation scenes by first responders whenever a traumatic incident happens—homicide or other crime, suicide, serious injury or accidental death.
The volunteers are the liasons between officials and the family, friends and witnesses on scene. The volunteers are shoulders to cry on for those who are grieving.
The TIP service is free, and the nonprofit organization survives on donations and the willingness of community members to serve. There are currently about 45 volunteers, but TIP Southwest Riverside County Executive Director Gina Magee said the organization is always seeking more.
For more information on volunteering, Magee may be contacted at 951-226-6793; firstname.lastname@example.org.
List of those honored Friday night:
Fire Engineer/Paramedic Sean DeGrave – Murrieta Fire Department (In addition to a Heroes With Heart award, DeGrave was honored with the Chief Phil Armentrout "Distinguished Service Firefighters" award. Armentrout was a Murrieta fire chief who died after a long battle with cancer.)
Detective Victor Carrillo – Murrieta Police Department
Capt. Ernie Sanchez – California Highway Patrol – Temecula
Dr. Adriane Campo, MD – Rancho Springs Medical Center
Julie Ideta, RN – Rancho Springs Medical Center
Randy Merrill – Riverside County Sheriff's Department - 911 Dispatch
Kathy Martinez – Riverside County Sheriff's Department - 911 Dispatch (Martinez was also honored with the Dep. Kent Hintergardt "Top Cop" award.)
Deputy June Cox – Riverside County Sheriff's Department – Lake Elsinore
Deputy Gabriel Constantin – Riverside County Sheriff's Department – Lake Elsinore
Deputy Michael Mosca – Riverside County Sheriff's Department – Lake Elsinore
Deputy Orlando Castaneda – Riverside County Sheriff's Department – Temecula
Deputy Tyrel Burch – Riverside County Sheriff's Department – Wildomar
Alex Garcia III, (Private Citizen) Lake Elsinore
Volunteers of the Lake Elsinore Marine Search and Rescue (LEMSAR)
Christopher Brown – Paramedic with American Medical Response