Acts of heroism honored at police awards ceremony

Claremont police gathered at City Hall late last week for the annual police awards ceremony, honoring the accomplishments of the department’s personnel and volunteers. One of the department’s most distinguished awards was given to a woman without a badge or uniform.

In addition to recognizing those among its own ranks, Claremont police bestowed an honorary distinction, The Police Medal of Excellence, to a citizen of Claremont. The department gives this award to a resident who has shown exemplary service to both the Claremont PD and the community. The honor, though, had an exceptional significance to award recipient Rachel Krieger.

When receiving the award, Ms. Krieger, 32, stood arm-in-arm with neighbor Anna Petrovich, who Ms. Krieger helped save when a fire broke out at Ms. Petrovich’s south Claremont home last April. Family members say the distinction has brought about a new level of self-confidence for the usually shy Ms. Krieger, who is diagnosed with autism. None of that social anxiety was present as Ms. Krieger beamed in front of the crowds.

“Characteristically, it was something that no one had ever thought to expect of her. She has just turned out to be the most socially appropriate and caring person,” said Ms. Krieger’s grandmother, Arline Krieger. “The recognition by the community has built her self-confidence. Now she is much more social.”

Instead of panicking in an emergency situation, Ms. Krieger calmly called police the night she discovered her neighbor’s home had re-ignited into flames less than 24 hours after an initial blaze.

“Typically, people with autism will run and hide in the face of adversity. However, Rachel rose above this challenge and handled the situation bravely, with regard for the safety of her neighbors,” said Claremont Captain Jon Traber before bequeathing Ms. Krieger with her medal. “Rachel’s quick thinking and appropriate response in the face of danger helped save lives that night.”

Ms. Krieger exuded a sense of confidence standing in front of the packed council chamber Thursday night, any social anxiety was seemingly absent.

“I am excited because I get to show people,” Ms. Krieger explained of her shiny new medallion.

While she was honored for her outstanding bravery, for Ms. Krieger it was about looking after a maternal figure in her life.

“My neighbor needed help,” said Ms. Krieger, who admitted she was scared, but knew what she had to do.

Ms. Krieger grew up in her grandmother’s Kirkwood Avenue home, where “she had a history of watching out for Ann’s house,” her grandmother noted. She always had a special bond with Ms. Petrovich, who lived right across the street.

“Ann is like a grandma to her and I’m more like a full-time caretaker,” Arline Krieger explained of her realtionship with her grandaughter. “Ann would always tell her ‘You come watch my house for me.’ She felt a sense of responsibility.”

When Ms. Petrovich’s home went up in flames Easter Sunday, Ms. Krieger was among the first in line with other neighbors to come to Ms. Petrovich’s aid. Those first acts of kindness were followed by further actions of bravery, for which both the Claremont police and the Pomona Valley Learning Disabilities Association formally recognized her.

During the early morning following the initial fire, Ms. Krieger was putting her dog outside when she noticed Ms. Petrovich’s house had once again gone up in flames. Instead of panicking, she immediately called the police. She then went over to the house where Ms. Petrovich was staying, adjacent to the flames, to alert her and other neighbors about the second blaze.

“She had to run right by the house, where the fire was dropping down all around, to get to the door,” Ms. Petrovich explained.

Afterwards, Ms. Krieger escorted Ms. Petrovich and the others to her grandmother’s home and provided her with some slippers and tea.

“She didn’t even want her slippers back. She has always looked out for me,” Ms. Petrovich said emotionally, admitting that Ms. Krieger is like one of her own. “She always comes in [the house] with cookies or biscuits or hot tea or cider. She just loves to surprise me and bring me food. She is terrific.”

Receiving the award has provided a wonderful learning opportunity not only for Ms. Krieger, but also for others in the special needs community, according to grandmother Arline. Several of Ms. Krieger’s friends from a young adult social group, part of the Pomona Valley Learning Disabilities Association, were present at the meeting to support their friend and attend a celebratory pizza party afterward.

“It has brought her into a place of honor among her friends, and the kind of self-confidence that comes with that is something to really be sought after for any kid with any kind of challenge,” Arline said. “To know they have made a difference…that is probably the biggest gift that they, or any of us, can ever get.”

—Beth Hartnett

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