The moment Matt Schons found out the newborn was still inside his neighbor’s burning house, he went in for her. When his glasses fogged from the heat and smoke, he darted out to set them down. Then he charged back in once more.
This week the Tracy, Minn., man earned a national honor for rescuing the 2-month-old. Schons is among 22 people who won this year’s Carnegie Medal for Civilian Heroism, given to those “who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others.” In addition to a bronze medallion, he gets a $5,000 prize.
“It’s kind of a big thing,” said Schons, 27, by phone Wednesday. But his biggest reward has been seeing little Jadyn, now a toddler, running around and laughing, he said. “That’s definitely a good feeling.”
Schons and his wife, Sheena, awoke one morning in September 2012 to the sound of the house across the street exploding. Shattering glass. A girl’s screams. Matt slipped on some shoes and raced shirtless in flannel pajama pants to the burning home while Sheena called 911.
Schons asked Sonja Timmons — who was burned, scared and flanked by two crying daughters — whether anyone was still inside. He entered in search of a crib. In the living room, he held his breath as long as he could, blowing it out quickly to clear a bit of air in front of him.
“There was an initial ‘Oh my God,’ ” Schons said. “It was an overwhelming feeling. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do something, but I had to try.”
The Carnegie commission offered this description of the rescue: “Passing within inches of the flames in deteriorating conditions, he found the crib in the far corner of the room. Schons picked Jadyn up and, cradling her in one arm while shielding her face with the other, fled outside to safety.
“Flames grew quickly to engulf the house.”
Timmons and her three daughters were hospitalized for smoke inhalation and burns. The four have since recovered. Schons wasn’t hurt — no burns, smoke inhalation or even singed hair. He was lucky, he acknowledged.
Before the fire, Schons didn’t know Timmons well. But since then, they have “gotten pretty close,” he said. Schons’ family moved to a different neighborhood, but both Timmons and her mother work at the same senior home, where Schons is a cook. So he sees Jadyn often.
“The way I looked at it, she was 2 months old,” Schons said. “She had no idea what the world was. She hadn’t lived her life yet.
“I had to do everything I could to find her.”