Gov. Mike Parson presented 18 first responders and six civilians with awards and honors Monday for extraordinary acts of service in 2018.
During a ceremony at the Missouri Highway Patrol Law Enforcement Training Academy Gymnasium in Jefferson City, Parson and Sandy Karsten, director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety, presented the awards and shared the stories of why each person was nominated.
Parson told the crowd of first responders, honorees and their families how much he appreciated their sacrifices and willingness to help.
"As I read through the articles of the people we're honoring this morning, the sacrifices they make for other people that you'll never know, never see, you'll never meet, but you're willing to do that every day for somebody that you don't know," Parson said.
Karsten pointed out that the honorees were just an example of the rest of the first responders in the state.
"These are an example of our public safety servants who go to work every day across Missouri and provide service — some rising to the level of this recognition, but all making a difference in the lives of Missourians," Karsten said.
As Karsten read the stories of each award-winning act, Parson presented medals to the first responders.
Parson presented four Medals of Valor, which is the highest honor in the state for first responders. The Medal of Valor is presented to public safety officers who have "exhibited exceptional courage, extraordinary decisiveness and presence of mind, and unusual swiftness of action, regardless of his or her own personal safety, in the attempt to save or protect human life," according to the Missouri Department of Public Safety.
Trooper Matthew Neely, of Missouri Highway Patrol Troop H, received his award for capturing a gunman.
Sgt. Shawn Fields, of the Stone County Sheriff's Office, received his award for life-saving rescue efforts during the sinking of a duck boat on Table Rock Lake, which claimed the lives of 17 people. While off-duty, he dove into the water and pulled out survivors and victims.
Officers Jeremy Bratton and Kyle Schmidt, of the St. Charles Police Department, received their medals for confronting and wounding a murder suspect in a gun battle.
Parson then presented the Governor's Medal to two groups of first responders. The Governor's Medal is awarded to groups of public safety officers who work or train together or a group who worked together during a single event.
Retired Capt. Cody Ross, Lt. Jason Huff, Maj. Cade Thompson, Capt. Andrew Fritzinger, Chief Richard Bashor and Trooper Bradley Muck were presented with the honor for their work during a standoff with more than 200 offenders at the Crossroads Corrections Center in Cameron.
Lt. Daniel Tscherny; retired Capt. Jason Bogema; Rescue Specialist Tony Fields; and firefighters Joshua Bravestone, Zachary Keller, Garett Olson, Tyler Nevins and Dustin Matney of the Springfield Fire Department were awarded for their efforts in attempting to rescue Greene County Deputy Sheriff Aaron Roberts, who was killed when his vehicle was swept away in floodwater. Fields was unable to attend and will receive his medal later.
Parson also presented awards to three of six winners of the Public Safety Civilian Partnership Award, for valuable or courageous assistance to members of a Missouri public safety agency.
Wesley Hilton was nominated by the Clinton Police Department for life-sustaining support of a police officer who was wounded during an ongoing gun battle while participating in a citizen ride-along. In the same instance, Clinton police officer Christopher Morton was killed.
Catherine Stepps was nominated by the St. Louis Fire Department for rescuing her elderly neighbor from a house fire before responders were able to arrive.
Tyler Preston, Gabriel Gowen and Jordan Lambay, all in their early 20s, were nominated by the Kirksville Police Department for intervening and ending the attack of an ax-wielding man upon a woman, who sustained life-threatening injuries. Lambay held down the attacker until responders arrived.
Marlin Matchett was nominated by the Taney County Ambulance District for his life-saving efforts during the Branson duck boat sinking.
Stepps, Gowen and Lambay were unable to attend the ceremony and will receive their plaques at a later date.
Karsten praised the honorees for their examples of courage after the awards were distributed.
"A firefighter pilot who was killed in World War II, John Putnam Jr., said, 'Courage is not the lack of fear but the ability to face it.' The accounts we have heard today and the actions taken by the people we have honored today truly represent courage in action," Karsten said. "Each heroic act was different, but each individual took action without regard for their personal safety in a selfless act to protect others."
Nominations for heroic acts performed in 2019 are now open on the DPS website, dps.mo.gov.