One Saturday back in September of 2012, Matthew Schons awoke to the sound of his neighbor's house exploding.
He raced outside and was told a 2-month-old baby was inside – so he instantly took action. He went through the front door of the burning house, emerging into a room full of thick smoke. He moved along the living room's perimeter, passing within inches of flames, until he found young Jadyn B. Haugen in her crib. He grabbed the infant, cradled her in one arm, and sprinted back outside with an arm over his face.
"It was kind of an instinctive thing," Schons told the Marshall Independent at the time. "I just reacted. We saw the little girl run outside yelling, 'Help, help,' and she ran over to the neighbors. Then the mom said the baby was still inside, so I took it upon myself to see if I could find her. It was very smoky inside and hard to see and pretty hard to breathe; I was lucky I was able to find her and get her outta there."
Schons used the term lucky – one organization prefers the word heroic.
Schons was awarded a Carnegie Medal for Civilian Heroism Wednesday for his actions that night in Tracy, Minnesota. The now-25-year-old is one of 22 people to receive the national award from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, given to "those who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others." He gets a bronze medallion and $5,000 from the commission.
The infant suffered significant burns but recovered, FOX 9 reports; her mother, Sonja Timmons, and two other children were injured in the explosion and taken to the hospital.
WCCO had a phone interview with him shortly after the incident.
Other winners of the Carnegie Medal this year include a Texas duo that tried to stop an armed assault; a Kentucky man who died trying to save others from drowning; and an Iowa man who pushed a stuck car off train tracks with a speeding locomotive just a few hundred feet away.
The commission says it's awarded a total of 9,675 medals since its inception in 1904, and doled out $36 million in one-time grants, scholarships, death benefits and continuing assistance. Ninety-five of those medals have gone to someone in Minnesota. The most recent winner from the North Star state, prior to Schon was Pierre Johnson of Brooklyn Park, given a Carnegie Medal for rescuing a 91-year-old, wheelchair-bound woman from a fire in 2012.
Johnson, the Star Tribune reported, was sent to prison for selling cocaine shortly after saving the woman's life, but was given the honor even after being incarcerated – a gesture he said he was overwhelmed by. He wanted to use the recognition to help get his life on track.
“It shows you never know what is going to happen in life,” he told the paper at the time. “I have to take full advantage of this break.”
The earliest Minnesotan to be given a Carnegie Medal was Rachel E. Lyon. In 1906, the 20-year-old died while trying to save another woman from a fire in Long Lake, Minnesota. Lyon found the woman on fire and tried to beat out the flames, but caught on fire herself.