Sturgis officers awarded prestigious Carnegie Medal

Sturgis Police Sgts. Chris Schmoker and Dylan Goetsch received their Carnegie Medals in ceremonies Thursday. From left are Sturgis Police Chief Geody VanDewater, Schmoker, Goetsch and U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson. Pioneer photo by Deb Holland

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STURGIS — Sturgis Police Sgts. Chris Schmoker and Dylan Goetsch shun the label of heroes.

But the two were awarded Carnegie Medals Thursday for an act of heroism that saved the life of Jason McKee in Sturgis in the early morning hours of May 12, 2018, during a house fire.

Schmoker’s daughter Chloe believes the two certainly are heroes in her eyes.

“When he told me that they had pulled him (McKee) out, I was so proud of him,” said the 14-year-old who will be a freshman at Belle Fourche High School in the fall.

Pride also is what Julie Goetsch, Dylan’s mom, felt when she first heard about the incident.

“I cried. I was so proud,” she said.

She admits she also shed tears of relief knowing that her son and fellow officer Schmoker could have died that day in their attempt to save McKee.

But because these common men did an uncommon act, they were among 17 individuals in the U.S. and Canada to be awarded Carnegie Medals for 2019. The two were originally scheduled to receive their medals in March, but the ceremony was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, on hand Thursday to present the awards, lauded the persistence of the two officers as they entered the burning structure not just once, but multiple times.

“Persistence was on display that day as I suspect it is in the Sturgis Police Department every single day,” he said.

Johnson calls the men’s actions “an unbelievable act of courage.”

“Gentlemen we are all just in awe of what you view as just a part of doing your duty to serve and protect. These are acts of bravery and persistence that most of us simply cannot comprehend,” he said.

Johnson also shared an inscription on the medal. It read: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13).

“That is remarkable. But it is even more remarkable that you gentlemen were willing to lay down your lives, not for somebody that was a friend or a family member, but someone who is a citizen of this community,” Johnson said.

Although he wasn’t at the ceremony Thursday, Jason McKee has said that he reflects daily on the incredible heroism displayed by Goetsch and Schmoker.

McKee said he knows that if the two men had not persisted in entering the burning home where he lie unconscious, he would not be here today.

Schmoker said the award is a big honor, but admitted that when the two arrived on the scene of the fire on the morning of May 12, they didn’t really expect to happen what did happen.

“Honestly I thought we were going to get in trouble. I told the chief right away what happened,” Schmoker said.

Goetsch said he and Schmoker did what any other officer would have done had they arrived on the scene of a fire.

“It’s pretty cool to be recognized for it, but I’m not very wordy, so ‘thank you,’” he said.

Goetsch and Schmoker say being called heroes is “awkward.”

“We were just trying to help… When we realized he was still alive and the fire was spreading, we knew that if we didn’t try that there might not be a chance,” Schmoker said.

Goetsch said when you get a call about an active fire with people trapped inside it spikes the adrenaline.

“Self-preservation goes a little bit out the window. And like Chris said, we were just trying to help. Had the fire department beat us there would probably would have stood back and watched.”

Sturgis Police Chief Geody VanDewater said he was proud of the actions the officers took to save McKee’s life.

“It’s truly an honor to work with officers who don’t hesitate to put themselves in harm’s way to save a life.  There is nothing more noble then their actions,” he said.  

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