It was January 15, 2011 when Mercy paramedic Joseph Heath arrived at a house fire in Springfield. With thick black smoke billowing from the building, a woman raced up to him, saying her daughters were trapped inside. Wearing no protective gear, Heath went into the home through a broken window, and pulled one of the sisters to safety. A battalion chief ordered him to get out of the home, and in his place, Springfield firefighter Jeffrey Elliott went in—and pulled the other sister from the fire. The girls were badly burned, but both survived.
These acts of true heroism earned the men Missouri Medals of Valor. Governor Nixon presented the medals to Heath and Elliott, along with six other safety officers from Missouri.
"These eight brave officers, each of whom faced dangerous and threatening circumstances, acted without regard for their own safety and instead focused solely on protecting the public by responding swiftly and heroically," Gov. Nixon said.
Other Medal of Valor recipients include:
- Officer Daryl A. Hall of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. Officer Hall died in the line of duty while trying to get a gunman inside a nightclub to drop his weapon. They exchanged fire; both were killed.
- Thomas R. Bacon, Jr. of the Pattonville Fire Protection District. As an EF-4 tornado was bearing down, he raced outside to get a family of five from their car to safety inside the fire station.
- James C. Cooksey, Jr. of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Trooper Cooksey jumped into swift floodwaters to save a woman whose car was being swept away.
- Robert C. Siscel of the Sunset Hills Police Department. Sgt. Siscel confronted a masked gunman who was holding an elderly woman hostage. The gunman was just 10 feet away when he pulled the gun on Sgt. Siscel, who was forced to fire. The gunman was incapacitated and was arrested.
- Curtis B. Bohanan, II, of the Jefferson City Police Department, and Christopher J. Suchanek of the Cole County Sheriff’s Department. Officers were pursuing a suspected murderer, who ran into the Capitol Plaza Hotel. Officer Bohanan followed him into the lobby, where the suspect shot at him. Detective Suchanek was providing security at the hotel for a private party when he heard gunfire. He responded and saw the gunman raise his weapon again. He shot and incapacitated him. The suspect was arrested.
"Each time a public safety officer answers an emergency call they are not only putting their lives at risk, but also reaffirming their courageous commitment to protect their communities," Gov. Nixon said. "These eight officers faced very different emergency situations, but in each case they demonstrated bravery, dedication and the willingness to put their own lives on the line to save their fellow citizens. These are outstanding public safety officers and exceptional role models."
The Medal of Valor is awarded annually based on recommendations submitted by the Medal of Valor Review Board. Recipients must serve a public agency, with or without compensation, as a firefighter, law enforcement officer or emergency personnel. The nominating form states the Medal of Valor is awarded "to a public safety officer who has 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."