TRACY – Since its inception in 1904, the Carnegie Hero Fund has awarded the Carnegie Medal to 9,675 people who have risked or given their lives to save the lives of others. Last week, a local hero was given the distinction.
On the morning of Sept. 15, 2012, Sonja Timmons’ house on Elm Street exploded and burst into flames as the result of a gas leak. Matt Schons and his wife, Sheena, lived across the street and were awoken by the blast. Schons told his wife to call 911 as he ran outside to see what had happened. Schons saw Timmons and one of her daughters come out the side door of the house, as well as one of her daughters running to a neighbor’s house for help. He asked if anyone else was inside.
“She told me her baby was inside. I asked where. She said the crib,” Schons said. He remembers thinking that things like these happen fast and that he didn’t have much time. “And I figured that was enough talking, so I went inside.”
Once inside the house, he rushed to search for the crib and found Timmons’ two-month old daughter. The entire time he has inside, he said his mind was racing with possible scenarios and the best way to get out.
“What do I do if the door is blocked?” Schons said. “Jump out the window? They were all blown out. Do I want to be Bruce Willis today?”
Schons successfully made it out a door that was blocked by a few spot fires. Timmons and her daughters were taken to the Sanford Medical Center in Tracy, then airlifted to a burn facility in the Twin Cities.
Schons remembers feeling pride and relief when he saw the crib’s condition after the fire was put out.
“(It) was completely charred and in pieces when the fire department hauled it out,” he said.
He said adrenaline helped pull the feat off.
“If people need help, I try to help. I have a 7-year-old daughter, I hope to think that my neighbors would do the same,” Schons said
A year-and-a-half later, Timmons and her three daughters have recovered; after going through physical therapy they are doing well.
Schons was not aware of the award until he was notified by mail in early 2013 that he had been nominated by Tracy Fire Chief Dale Johnson III.
“Not until they got ahold of me four or five months after it happened. I had to fill out a form with all the details,” Schons said.
Then Schons almost forgot about the award until he received another letter more than a year later.
“I was blown away. I hadn’t heard from them in quite a while. I opened the letter and it said I had been awarded (the Carnegie Medal),” Schons said.
“Fox 9 and KSFY were here. It was kind of crazy. I never expected anything to happen,” Schons said. “(It was) kind of overwhelming, more attention than I’ve had before.”
As a recipient of the Carnegie Medal, Schons also received a $5,000 cash award. He is not sure what he is going to do with the money yet, but he has spent a little of it on something special.
“We got our daughter a new bike for her birthday next month,” he said.
Schons has also been honored with two more local awards: the Minnesota Public Safety Service Award and the first-time Tracy Citizens Award for a Heroic Act. He was unaware of the Tracy Citizens Award until he was invited to a local ceremony.
“They sent us two tickets to the event. I thought they were just doing it to be nice. Then they started talking about the incident and I knew something was up,” Schons said. “I stood up to walk up and everyone else stood and started clapping. That was a great feeling.”
After the explosion, Schons went to work his shift as a cook at the Balaton Manor that afternoon. He didn’t realize it right away, but he later discovered that Timmons’ mother was his supervisor.
Timmons later came to be his coworker at the manor after she completed her physical therapy. Schons has moved across town since the incident, and Timmons and her daughters are living elsewhere, but he gets to see Jaydn, the little girl he saved, from time to time when her mother brings her by work.
“It’s pretty crazy to see her,” Schons said. “It’s a good feeling.”