Amy Brocato Pearson
Jacksonville Daily Progress
The training room at the Jacksonville Police Department was filled with a standing-room-only crowd Wednesday morning as friends, family and fellow officers gathered to honor two of Jacksonville's finest in a historic medal ceremony.
An estimated 75 people turned out to pay respects to Jacksonville Police Officers James Lozano and Christopher Bell as they were awarded the Medal of Valor and the Lifesaving Medal, respectively, from Police Chief Reece Daniel.
The honors stem from the officers' heroic actions on the evening of June 15, when Lozano, assisted by Bell, helped save the lives of two Jacksonville residents by rescuing them from their home, which was engulfed in "thick smoke and intense flames," according to Daniel.
This is the first time in the history of the Jacksonville Police Department these two medals have been awarded, Daniel said. The honor is only bestowed after an extensive investigation is completed, finding the recipients worthy of the designation.
"Very seldom in the history of police departments do you get the opportunity to do what we're doing today," he said.
"It's not something we do lightly; this is the highest honor we can give…. I'm proud to be wearing the same uniform as these two officers."
Daniel read the citation accompanying each officer's medal. He said both officers acted "without regard to their own safety" during the fire, which destroyed a residence at the corner of Waters and Rusk streets. Lozano, who is also a certified firefighter, went in first, crawling through smoke and flames to rouse residents in back bedrooms. Bell went in right behind him but was forced by flames to turn back, but assisted Lozano in helping the residents escape out of a bedroom window.
"What you did was way beyond the call of duty," Daniel said. "Never in my life have I worked with a better group then we have now."
Lozano took a deep breath as Daniel read his award citation. When it was his turn to acknowledge the award, he thanked God first.
"He was there guiding us and giving us the extra strength we needed to do what needed to be done," Lozano said. "I do not believe for a moment we could have done it without Him."
He also paid homage to Officers Roscoe Lee and Randy Zimmerman, who were both killed in the line of duty, Lee in 1979 and Zimmerman in 1992.
"They were true heroes and we won't forget that," Lozano said.
Lozano praised other first responders.
"Jacksonville should be incredibly proud. We have two awesome departments whose main goal is to serve you," he said to the crowd. "On that day, we did just that; we helped our fellow man."
Bell gave a nod to Lozano in his speech.
"I'm tipping my hat to you, James," he said. "Seeing you take that first step to go inside gave me the courage to attempt to help."
Jacksonville firefighters and even Bullard Police officers turned out to congratulate the pair. Mayor Kenneth Melvin, City Manager Mo Raissi, councilwoman Ann Chandler and councilmen Billy McDonald and Hubert Robinson were also in the crowd.
"This is absolutely amazing; it's surreal," said Bell, 28, who has been a police officer for six years, starting in Pagoda, Texas. "I never imagined when I went through Academy that I'd be considered for anything like this."
Lozano, 25, has been a police officer for two years. He described the honor as "exciting and humbling."
"I'm very thankful," he said, pausing to embrace his proud grandmother.
"I'm very proud of you both," Daniel said.