By W. Thomas Smith Jr.
Corporal Kenny Fitzsimmons, Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD), was awarded the Sheriff’s Award for Excellence for saving the life of a man about to take his own life in January.
The distraught man, 26-year-old Daniel Kenny, was sitting on the edge of a bridge overpass in Columbia and about to jump when Cpl. Fitzsimmons grabbed him from behind, seated him on the sidewalk and began calmly talking with him. The dramatic scene aired in real-time on national TV as ON PATROL: LIVE cameras were present.
A former U.S. Army infantry NCO with deployments to Iraq and Kosovo under his belt, Fitzsimmons said it was not the first time RCSD deputies had brought suicidal persons back from the brink of death.
“It’s just that this time it happened to be caught on camera,” he said.
Presenting the award to Fitzsimmons, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said, “This action speaks to who we are as peace officers. We do so much more than simply enforce the law. ‘Peace’ and ‘officer’ are not simply words to us: These words are on our vehicles. They are on our uniforms. And they are a reflection of the culture and philosophy of this entire department. Cpl. Fitzsimmons’ cool head and calm demeanor in that situation, on that day, on that bridge were and are a manifestation of what it means to be a peace officer.”
Lott attributed the successful conclusion of what otherwise would have been a disastrous end, to both the peace-officer mindset and solid crisis intervention training received by every deputy in the department.
“Each deputy receives at least two hours of [suicide prevention] training from the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI),” said Lott. “Some receive as much as 48 hours.”
Lott also presented his Sheriff’s Award for Excellence to the man on the bridge, Daniel Kenny (present with his father), who, according to Lott, “has himself demonstrated courage by standing here with us today and recognizing that taking one’s life is never the answer.”
Sherri Cloud, director of Crisis Intervention Training for NAMI, presented Fitzsimmons with NAMI’s challenge coin in recognition of his action.
Accepting both awards, Fitzsimmons thanked everyone present.
“Honestly, this isn’t for me. This is for all the good cops out there doing this on a daily basis,” Fitzsimmons said.
Kenny then presented a hat and patches embroidered with the words “Kenny Strong” to Fitzsimmons, pointing to the fact that both men share a common name and now a common bond of friendship.
In addition to Fitzsimmons, Lott, Cloud, Kenny and Kenny’s father; the award ceremony was attended by Fitzsimmons’ family, several deputies, and representatives of NAMI.
Pictured is Cpl. Kenny Fitzsimmons and his daughter following the awards ceremony.