Orange County (FL) Sheriff's Office
Valencia Community College, Florida
The accolade "hero" gets tossed around rather freely these days, but Jennifer Fulford Salvano is the real deal—everybody from the National Sheriff's Association and the state of Florida to the Fraternal Order of Police and Dick Cheney has said as much.
On May 5, 2004, Fulford and several other Orange County (Florida) Sheriff's Office deputies responded to an emergency cell-phone call from an eight-year-old boy who said armed men had invaded their home and had trapped him and his two-year-old twin sisters in a minivan in the garage. When Fulford entered the garage to check on the children, two men emerged from the house firing their weapons. Trapped in the garage, Fulford fired back. She was struck by 10 bullets—including one that disabled her shooting hand.
"Refusing to give up, and drawing from your prior training," reads the certificate for her Orange County Sheriff's Office Purple Heart, "you transitioned from your dominant hand to your weak hand and continued the battle. Your tremendous courage, focus, and will to survive resulted in one of the suspect's being killed, another fatally injured, and a third surrendering without further incident."
What motivated Fulford’s bravery? In a Parade cover story published upon her selection as Police Officer of the Year by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and Parade, Fulford said she did it for the children. "Those kids didn't choose to be there. I had to do what I could to get them out."
Fulford, whose numerous other awards include the Presidential Public Officer's Medal of Valor Award presented personally by Vice President Cheney, had dreamed about a career in law enforcement since childhood. "My mother was also in law enforcement—she worked for the State Attorney's Office—and I always liked cops shows on TV," said Fulford.
She began her higher education at Valencia Community College (VCC) in Orlando, Florida, spending her senior year in high school in a dual-enrollment program. "I loved it," said Fulford. "At VCC I was able to get credit for my senior year but at the same time I was already getting into the college experience, picking and choosing my classes. I took a bunch of extra credits just because I had of different interests I wanted to explore."
After earning her A.A. at VCC, she went on to receive a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of South Florida and years later returned to the VCC Criminal Justice Academy to earn the Basic Law Enforcement Academy Certificate, which was required for employment by the Orange County Sheriff's Office.
Fulford returned to active duty less than four months after the incident—and was married a month later. She is currently a corporal in the Orange County Sheriff's Department. "I'm in a uniform in a marked car on the road supervising the people who answer calls," says Fulford. "We take anything and everything. When people call in for service, we handle those, and we do self-initiated stuff: target high-crime areas, traffic stops, things like that."
Along with serving as an adjunct instructor at the VCC Criminal Justice Academy, Fulford frequently travels nationwide to teach courses at law enforcement academies. "I usually speak about the shooting incident and officer-safety-related stuff," said Fulford. "I stress to them that they need to have a particular type of mindset, they need to take their training very seriously because, when you get into something like that, you don't want to have to stop and think about what you're going to do."