Police Officer William Nahorodny was on patrol about 4 a.m. on Nov. 6 when he saw a report of a fire show up on the computer screen in his cruiser.
Nahorodny was only five blocks away, so he drove over to the Lebeau Apartments off N Fort Harrison Avenue, showing up even before the fire trucks.
When he saw flames and thick black smoke billowing out of the second story of the apartment building, Nahorodny instantly worried about the people inside.
What he did next made Nahorodny Clearwater's Outstanding Police Officer of the Year, an award presented Wednesday at a luncheon sponsored by the Rotary Club of Clearwater at the Belleair Country Club.
One other officer and a firefighter also were honored.
As soon as he saw the fire and smoke consuming one of the upper-floor apartments, Nahorodny thought, "I better hurry up and get 'em out. I know how fast fire goes and it's not going to be long before this thing is on the ground," he recalled Wednesday.
So Nahorodny rushed in and went upstairs, which was thick with billowing black smoke.
"It was pitch black, pitch black, but I could see the orange, the fire. I could feel the heat, but I didn't know how close it was," he said.
The people in the flaming apartment already had left, and the people in the other second-floor apartment had just prepared themselves to go. So Nahorodny helped them out, and then went back inside the burning building.
The doors of both ground-floor apartments were locked, so Nahorodny kicked them in. Even though smoke and flames were entering the ground floor as well, people in both of the apartments were looking for pets, apparently not realizing how much danger they were in.
"I grabbed them and just pulled them out," he said.
Clearwater Police Chief Tony Holloway, who received the award himself more than 20 years ago, said it was an honor to help bestow it on Nahorodny. The accolade comes with a $1,000 savings bond, a medal, a pin and a day off, and is officially called the Joseph F. Cornelius Family Foundation Outstanding Police Officer of the Year award.
Speaking to Rotary Club members and visitors Wednesday, Nahorodny thanked everyone involved in the award.
"Police, we don't get much back," he said. Officers frequently encounter people who don't like them at all. "But when people like you get together and do stuff like this for us, it really means something," he said.
Two other city employees received Rotary Public Safety and Service awards:
• Clearwater police Detective Chris Householder was honored for volunteering "countless hours" with the Tampa Bay Youth Football League, often giving as much as 25 hours a week. He oversees all operations for the league.
• Clearwater fire Lt. Mark Smyth was honored for extensive volunteering with the Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure, Joshua House, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Girl Scouts and other organizations.
Staff Writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8232.