Lifeguard Jamie Russell of San Rafael was on alert when she noticed the little boy playing with a flotation device had slipped from sight at the shallow end of Fairfax's Meadow Club swimming pool.

She quickly spotted 4-year-old Parker King of Novato floating at the bottom, jumped in and brought him to the surface, then administered rescue breathing followed by a series of chest compressions last Sept. 12.

"It was scary," the 22-year-old said. "It seemed like forever, but when he started coughing and crying, I knew it was going to be OK."

Russell, who graduated last spring with a degree in environmental science from the University of California at Santa Cruz and is now studying to be a pharmacist, was hailed as a hero Tuesday as Sheriff Bob Doyle gave her a certificate of commendation, the department's highest honor for a civilian.

Russell was saluted at an awards ceremony at which three deputies also were commended for action "above and beyond" the call of duty.

Officials credited the chest compressions administered by Russell with saving Parker's life.

"Ms. Russell's prior training and immediate response to this situation resulted in saving the life of a 4-year-old boy who may otherwise well have died awaiting medical response that had to travel along a rural two-lane mountain roadway to arrive," the sheriff's commendation said.

The King family watched the proceedings intently near the front of a crowd in the Board of Supervisors' chambers, and Parker's dad, Bruce King, was near tears as he turned toward Russell to thank her in halting, emotional and heartfelt commentary.


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"That day my life flashed before my eyes," King said. "The way you focused and did that training, it all worked out. It's a miracle," he said. "He's perfect."

While dad's comments were brief, Parker, now 5, was a little man of but one word. Asked how he was feeling about the festivities, he said, "Good."

Russell wasn't alone Tuesday in getting an honor for saving a life.

Deputy sheriff Laurie O'Toole received the department's life-saving award for saving an inmate at the county jail who tried to hang herself with a sheet last May 23. The inmate "would have likely died alone in her cell," if Deputy O'Toole had not investigated a noise, burst into the cell and lifted the inmate's body weight off the noose, the sheriff's commendation said.

And deputies Jerrod Kansanback and Robert Heilman received letters of commendation for actions last April 5 in which they confronted a juvenile probationer who had been expelled for bringing live ammunition onto a school campus. The combative youth repeatedly tried to reach inside his jacket and a "very violent physical altercation" ensued in which Heilman's hand was broken. A loaded revolver was found in the jacket.

The two deputies were honored for "alertness, effective deployment of sound defensive tactics" and, in Heilman's case, a 'willingness to fight through the pain of a fractured hand.'"

The honorees received rounds of applause from an enthusiastic audience of sheriff's deputies and others who filled the chambers.

Contact Nels Johnson via email at ij.civiccenter@gmail.com. Follow him at twitter.com/nelsjohnsonnews.