By Reggie Ellis
Prior to the events of Sept. 1, 2002, Rick Grimsley never thought he would be a hometown hero for doing the job he had dreamed of since elementary school. He most certainly didn't think he would be a national hero, but this month he became just that when he was awarded the Law Enforcement Purple Heart by the American Police Hall of Fame.
"Every time you go out there you put your life at risk," said the eight-year veteran of the Exeter Police Department. "It is a great honor to have something like this."
According to the American Police Hall of Fame Web site, www.aphf.com, only about 30 officers receive the award every year. With more than 800,000 police officers in the United States (U.S. Department of Labor), it is an extremely rare honor given to officers seriously injured in the line of duty.
"Most police officers don't get severely injured - usually they are killed," Grimsley said. "Every time I take out that medal I get goosebumps."
Grimsley was given the award during the Exeter Police Department's annual inspection on Oct. 11. Grimsley said he was caught off-guard by the presentation at which every officer was required to be present.
"This is something no one ever wants but are truly honored when they receive it," Grimsley said. "Hopefully no one else in our department will have to go through something like this to receive an award like that again."
Grimsley said he doesn't dwell on the wreck that severed both of his legs below the knee. He continues to speak to high school students about the dangers of drinking and driving. His alma mater, Redwood High School, recently called to ask that he receive an award for his courage at halftime of one of the football games. Grimsley, who graduated in 1988, is a former defensive back for the Redwood Rangers.
His 2,036 square foot, four bedroom, three bath home is on schedule to be completed before Christmas. It has been 90 percent funded by donations and has been specifically built with handicap accessible amenities including wider hallways and doorways, lower cabinets, a roll-in shower and front loading appliances. The frame and stucco is done and the roof should be completed sometime this week.
"There are so many positives that came out of this," Grimsley said. "It makes things heal faster when good things continue to happen."
Grimsley is currently working at the police department an average of four hours per day Monday through Friday, depending on doctors appointments and his rehabilitation schedule. He spends much of that time doing background checks for reserve officers and follow up calls on investigations.
Grimsley has yet to be fitted for his prosthetic legs. He said doctors have been stretching the skin on his left leg to insert a bone taken from his more stable right leg. That operation, Grimsley's last, will take place in February 2004. About a month later Grimsley said he should be fitted for a prosthetic on his stronger right leg. It will take several more months before his left leg to heal before he can be fitted for the second prosthetic leg.
Grimsley said the time-frame has been longer than projected but he still remains confident that he will one day get back in a patrol car and work the streets.
"That has always been my goal and that is what I am shooting for," he said. "I am not thinking about doing anything else right now."