Fla. man becomes 2nd civilian ever to win heroic Back the Blue award

Mechanic Chris Leverett used his Marine Corps training to operate a specialized rescue vehicle

By Suzie Ziegler 

ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Fla. — Hurricane Sally caused devastating flooding when it hit the Florida panhandle in September. About 120 people were rescued from the floodwaters thanks to two employees with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. Their heroic actions were honored at a Back the Blue Awards ceremony last month. 

One of the recipients, Chris Leverett, is a mechanic at the sheriff’s office. He is only the second civilian ever to win the prestigious award, according to the Pensacola News Journal

“I was at the right time, in the right spot, I guess,” Leverett told the News Journal. “Like I said, I think anyone would have done what I did in my position. Anyone who works here that would have done it too.” 

Leverett used his U.S. Marine Corps training to operate a high-water rescue vehicle. Not just anyone can drive such a machine. Fortunately, Leverett had special knowledge. 

“I was 35-21 diesel mechanic," Leverett explained to the News Journal. “Because I had been in that position, I was familiar with those vehicles.” 

So when an emergency call came in about stranded residents, Captain Jeremy Small turned to Leverett. The men were the only two people in the agency’s garage at the time, and the floodwaters had risen too high for standard vehicles. 

Leverett powered up the rescue vehicle and drove himself and Small to the flooded neighborhood. But the waters were so deep that even the rescue vehicle became stuck. 

Ultimately, Small and Leverett borrowed a civilian’s boat and went door-to-door, bringing more than 120 people ashore. 

“Capt. Small is a shining example of what it means to be a Florida law enforcement officer, putting service over self to protect your community,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said at the awards ceremony. “Mr. Leverett also showed true courage in the face of danger, volunteering to assist on this dangerous job and backed the blue by supporting law enforcement in this rescue mission.” 

“The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office is honored that Attorney General Moody would recognize the heroic actions of Capt. Jeremy Small and Chris Leverett,” said Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan. “Their actions responding in the midst of Hurricane Sally are only indicative of the courage of all the men and women at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.” 

According to the News Journal, Leverett was also given a Civilian Service Medal and Small was given the Medal of Courage and Life Saving Award at an earlier ceremony by the agency.


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