Arlington Heights police officer Adam Plawer was among the first to arrive after an SUV crashed into a utility pole and became engulfed in flames during a torrential downpour June 28.
The unconscious driver was trapped inside, still buckled by her seat belt and restrained by an air bag.
Plawer -- a one-time Army Green Beret with tours of service in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- jumped into action. He navigated a downed power line sparking near the vehicle and used his baton to break the driver's-side window, police department officials say.
He deflated the air bag, unbuckled the driver and pulled her to safety -- actions that earned him the department's L.W. Calderwood Officer of the Year Award Thursday.
"Officer Plawer's courage almost certainly saved the life of a citizen," said Deputy Police Chief Nick Pecora, who helped present the award to Plawer during a Noon Rotary Club luncheon at Ditka's restaurant. "(He) has displayed exemplary leadership and has built a reputation as someone who will help others regardless of the circumstances."
Plawer, 38, joined the department in 2012 after more than seven years in the Army with the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne). He worked in the department's afternoon shift patrol bureau for about five years before being assigned to the criminal investigations bureau.
"I've been blessed in my life to achieve lifelong dreams of being a soldier and a police officer," Plawer told the luncheon crowd, which included fellow officers, past Calderwood award winners, village officials and Rotary Club members. "My success is directly related to the people that I have served with and worked with, many of whom have made the ultimate sacrifice, and even more carry scars that are not only physical but emotional."
The club presented Plawer a $500 check for winning the award, named for the former police chief who served from 1958 to 1976. Plawer also received the department's Life Saver Award in August.
Police believe it was a medical issue that caused the driver, described as a woman in her 20s, to leave the road and crash near Palatine and Arlington Heights roads. Plawer said he's never met her and doesn't even know her name.
While acknowledging he doesn't like being the center of attention, Plawer said he is honored by the recognition.
"I look forward to continuing my career and hopefully being the motivation for others to succeed and excel in what they do," he said.
Pecora said Plawer has a track record of accepting additional responsibilities, serving as a firearms instructor and helping lead tactical training for the department. He's also a part-time school resource officer at The Academy at Forest View, Northwest Suburban High School District 214's alternative school.