For Hometown News
They act as an extra set of eyes and ears for Volusia County Sheriff's deputies, helping to deter crime and keep the community safe.
They're volunteer citizen observers and their duties run the gamut from routine patrols, watching over the homes of vacationing residents and working community events for traffic control, enforcement of handicapped parking rules and fingerprinting children for their parents' records.
But on the evening of May 16, while on routine patrol in DeLeon Springs, Bill Higham -- a longtime volunteer with the Sheriff's Office's Citizen Observer Program -- added life-saver to his job description. That's the day Mr. Higham helped prevent a homeless paraplegic from burning alive in her van. On Aug. 13, Sheriff Ben Johnson rewarded Mr. Higham's heroism with the agency's medal of merit.
"Job well done. Thank you for being in the right place at the right time and taking that extra step," Sheriff Johnson told Mr. Higham during an awards ceremony at the Deputy Stephen Saboda Training Center in Daytona Beach. "It was almost certain death if you had left her alone."
Mr. Higham and his patrol partner -- COP volunteers almost always work in pairs -- were working a shift in DeLeon Springs when he spotted a van that appeared to be overheating. He immediately recognized the van's occupant, a paraplegic woman who he routinely checks on while on patrol. When he got closer, Mr. Higham realized the van wasn't just smoking. It was on fire. While his COP partner relayed the incident to the radio base operator, Mr. Higham came up to the van and urgently told the woman that she needed to get out.
However, the woman appeared confused and disoriented and was unable to exit the van on her own. Without a moment to spare, Higham grabbed the fire extinguisher from his COP patrol car and extinguished the flames, in all likelihood saving the woman's life.
Mr. Higham has been a COP member for 10 years, donating more than 11,000 hours of service during that time. Established in 1989, the COP program has 140 volunteers.