The Los Angeles County Probation Department announced Friday that 96 Probation officers and staff will receive the Department’s Medal of Merit for bravely assisting with the evacuation of youth at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall (BJNJH) in Sylmar and Camp Joseph Scott in Santa Clarita during the Saddleridge and Tick Fires in 2019.
Additionally, Deputy Probation Officer II Martha Corbett will receive the Department’s Medal of Valor for helping to rescue a young boy who was standing on railroad tracks as a train rapidly approached last October.
The L.A. County Probation Department Medal of Valor is for staff who, on or off duty, distinguished themselves by conspicuous bravery or heroism above and beyond the normal demands of service displaying great courage in the face of immediate life-threatening peril and with full knowledge of the risk involved.
“The courage demonstrated by DPO II Corbett and the staff at BJNJH and Camp Scott during the Saddleridge and Tick fires show how selfless and dedicated our employees are,” said Los Angeles County Interim Chief Probation Officer Ray Leyva. “These brave and hard-working individuals are just a small representation of the amazing people that make up the L.A. County Probation Department, trying every day to make a difference in our client’s lives.”
On Oct. 3, 2019, DPO II Corbett, who is a Probation liaison with the city of Norwalk, was visiting a local middle school to introduce herself when school officials were alerted that an 11-year-old boy had ran away from the school and was standing perilously close to nearby train tracks. Despondent by the fact that his parents were going through a divorce, the boy ran away from school officials and his mother during a parent meeting at the school that day.
DPO II Corbett, who did not know the boy, tried to help in the dangerous and possibly fatal situation by making personal contact with the youth. The urgency of the situation escalated as the crossing arms of the railroad tracks lowered and the lights and bells alerted that a train was rapidly approaching the area. DPO II Corbett could see the train’s headlights growing brighter and its horn blowing louder as it quickly approached.
“I decided to intervene when I heard the sirens and the train begin to honk its horn,” Corbett recalled. “I knew it was critical to remove the young man and myself from danger. Most importantly, I did not want that young man to jump in front of the train.”
DPO II Corbett managed to persuade the boy closer to her by talking to him. Just in time, she quickly grabbed the young boy and guided him to safety just moments before the train passed, avoiding what could have been a disaster.
“I am happy that I was able to de-escalate the situation and I am thankful for all of my years of Probation training which enabled me to identify a critical situation and take action,” reflects Corbett.
Martha Corbett was recognized by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last October. “Your commitment to the safety and well-being of others is such a good example of what our Probation Department stands for,” said District 4 Supervisor Janice Hahn. “On behalf of the Board of Supervisors, we want to thank you for your heroic deed and your service to our young people.”
The Saddleridge Fire started the night of Oct. 10, 2019 in Sylmar. While the fire burned up to the outer wall of BJNJH, brave employees at the facility quickly evacuated over 300 youth and staff in the middle of the night to the previously closed Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey. Probation and partner agency staff managed to get the closed facility ready to accept youth that night and successfully operated the juvenile hall at the temporary location two months.
Probation Commissioners Don Meredith and Peter Shutan were there at BJNJH the night of the Saddleridge Fire and assisted with the evacuations. “It was truly an extraordinary performance by staff under a dynamic, emergent and hazardous condition,” said Commissioner Meredith. “In my career, I have been to many wildfires, and I conducted many evacuations. This was unique as staff faced the challenge to evacuate 175 high-risk youth, plus staff with fire impinging on two sides of the facility and on both sides of the only available access road. I am proud and honored to say staff performed in a calm, courageous, and professional manner as they removed the youth from harm’s way.”
Two weeks after the Saddleridge Fire, the Tick Fire broke out in Santa Clarita, threatening Camp Joseph Scott, Probation’s only girls’ camp. 25 youth and 20 staff were safely transported to Challenger Memorial Youth Center (CYMC) in Lancaster. Once deemed safe by health and safety authorities, Camp Scott reopened November 24, 2019 with all operations and activities resuming as normal.
L.A. County Probation had to cancel its in person ceremony honoring these medal recipients as well as other staff from across the Department that were nominated by their peers for demonstrating leadership, diligence, mentoring, engagement, reliability, ethics and earned respect from their co-workers, clients and the community due to COVID-19 restrictions, however plans for virtual recognition events are in the works.