Gov. Parson Awards Missouri Public Safety Medals to First Responders from Across State and Civilians Who Courageously Assisted Responders in 2017

 — Governor Mike Parson this morning presented five different Missouri Public Safety Medals for exemplary service to a total of 17 Missouri first responders from across the state and three civilians who assisted first responders in emergency situations during 2017.

Governor Parson also proclaimed today Missouri Public Safety Recognition Day in further recognition of the extraordinary acts of bravery and public service performed by Missouri public safety professionals, and the risks they take to protect the public each day.

“The public safety responders we honored today risked their own safety to directly confront violence, to race into burning buildings where people’s lives were threatened, and they performed heroic, live-saving rescues to save dozens of people from record flash flooding,” Governor Parson said. “We honored others for their life-long commitment to making communities stronger through their work to strengthen public safety professionalism and training. We also recognized civilians who made their own courageous sacrifices to come to assist first responders in dangerous emergency situations. I could not be prouder to stand with these outstanding men and women whose actions truly inspire.” 

Family members and colleagues were on hand for the awards presentation during the Jefferson City ceremony. The award recipients and the acts for which they were honored are as follows:

Medal of Valor: Missouri's highest award recognizing public safety officers who exhibit exceptional courage, extraordinary decisiveness and presence of mind, and unusual swiftness of action, regardless of his or her personal safety, in the attempt to save or protect human life.

Logan Benjamin, Vandalia Police Department – On June 19, 2017, Corporal Benjamin responded to a residence to check on the welfare of a man who had been texting an ex-girlfriend that he was considering suicide. When he knocked on the front door, Corporal Benjamin heard a loud thud and gasping coming from inside. Corporal Benjamin immediately made entry and found a man hanging from a support beam from a belt that was around his neck. Corporal Benjamin grabbed the man around the legs and waist and lifted him to prevent certain strangulation. But the man repeatedly hit Benjamin in the head. Struggling to prop the man up, Benjamin’s portable radio microphone was knocked off, preventing him from calling for assistance. Despite the man continuing to fight violently, Benjamin managed to call for assistance and used his tactical knife to cut the belt the man was hanging from. As both men fell to the ground, the suicidal man went for Benjamin’s knife. Benjamin drew his service pistol and commanded the man to stop trying to hurt himself and Benjamin. The suicidal man complied and was transported to a hospital for a mental health evaluation. This man remains alive and well to this day because of Corporal Benjamin’s quick thinking and unwavering determination.                                 

Michelle L. Vogel, Missouri Department of Corrections – On the night of Aug. 5, 2017, Corrections Officer Vogel was off duty when a window air conditioner caught fire in an apartment in Vogel’s apartment complex. Officer Vogel rushed into the burning building. The fire had spread throughout most of the first floor of the apartment. Inside, through thick smoke, and intense heat and flames, Officer Vogel searched to find anyone who might be trapped. As a result of her search, she found a four-year-old girl, who she quickly got out of the building to safety. Officer Vogel also made sure everyone else was out of the burning building. Outside, the girl’s mother, who was pregnant, was having trouble breathing. Officer Vogel attended to the mother until EMS arrived on the scene. Officer Vogel later took children’s clothing to the family to assist them in the aftermath of the fire. While off duty, Officer Vogel acted without hesitation and reached a young child trapped in a burning residence long before firefighters could have reached the trapped child.

Public Safety Medal of Merit: Awarded in recognition of brave actions above and beyond the call of normal duty that played a critical role in successfully resolving a situation that endangered public safety.

Ryan Windham, Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop E – On March 6, 2017, Trooper Windham was on routine patrol on southbound Interstate 57 in Mississippi County when he observed a motor vehicle that was missing a front license plate. Trooper Windham followed the vehicle and activated his lights and siren. The driver refused to stop. A pursuit ensued and ended when the driver slid of a roadway. As Trooper Windham approached the stopped car, the front seat passenger fled on foot. The back seat passenger exited and began firing a handgun at Trooper Windham. Trooper Windham returned fire and moved toward the rear of his patrol car for cover. The suspect fired at least six rounds, three of which struck Windham’s vehicle, one hitting the vehicle’s spotlight, directly in front of Trooper Windham. A manhunt later took place and all three occupants were taken into custody without incident. All three were convicted felons and members of a violent gang with outstanding warrants for their arrests. Trooper Windham’s attention to detail and bravery under fire resulted in the apprehension of these violent offenders.

Christopher Papineau, Columbia Police Department – On the evening of May 13, 2017, a gunman, high on Methamphetamine, was firing a shotgun indiscriminately from the back of a residence. The gunman was in a tree and had a box of shotgun shells. Upon arriving, two officers were struck by shotgun pellets. The officers tried to negotiate with the gunman and set up a perimeter, but he quickly escaped with the gun and ammunition. The Columbia Police Department SWAT team was activated. As the first group of SWAT officers arrived in the area, the gunman was seen climbing onto the roof of an events center several blocks from the original scene. Inside, a graduation party was taking place. Many residents were also outdoors at a neighboring multi-story apartment complex. The SWAT team pulled within 60 yards of the gunman. He refused to comply with demands and stated he wanted to kill or seriously wound law enforcement officers and that he would not surrender. The gunman was in a prone shooting position when a pedestrian walked into his field of fire. Officer Papineau fired a single shot to prevent the gunman from harming the pedestrian. The gunman fell from the roof and was pronounced dead. Facing a gunman who had fired at civilians and officers, stated his intention to harm or kill others, and refused to negotiate, Officer Papineau acted to protect innocent civilians. 

Hall of Fame Award: Presented to a senior or retired public safety professional in recognition of an exemplary career of service to the state of Missouri evidenced by devoting their talents to improving the safety and security of the state’s citizens.

Chief of Department David Hall (Retired), Springfield Fire Department  For 34 years, David Hall served the citizens of Missouri as a firefighter, fire chief, fire service educator and homeland security leader. Beginning his career as a volunteer firefighter with the Mountain Grove Volunteer Fire Department in 1983, Hall moved to the Springfield Fire Department in 1989, where he would be elevated to chief of the department in 2009, and retire in 2017. As Springfield chief, Hall was known not only for advancing the department’s capabilities but for his skill as a manager. Hall’s impact was also regional and statewide, through his leadership efforts improving programs and the fire training curriculum provided by the University of Missouri Fire Rescue Training Institute (MUFRTI). Hall served as an adjunct instructor and in leadership roles for the MUFRTI fire school and co-developed the Fire Officer I and II curricula. Hall served since the inception of Missouri’s state homeland security program and had leadership roles in the Region D Regional Homeland Security Oversight Committee, which plays a key role in Missouri’s regional approach to homeland security investment decisions. Hall now continues to lead as Missouri State University’s emergency manager. His career has served as a model of improving public safety through education, advancing training and professionalism, and commitment to public safety colleagues and the public.

Governor’s Medal: Awarded to a group of public safety officers in recognition of acts above and beyond the call of normal duty during a critical incident in which the collective performance of the group was essential to the successful resolution of the incident.

Shawn Bice, Chris Brockelbank, Jeremiah Jones, and M. Corbin Thompson, West Plains Fire Department and Christopher Kimes and Tyler Pond, Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop G – On April 28, 2017, record flooding inundated West Plains as over 10 inches of rain fell in a matter of hours. The floodwaters swept vehicles off roads, homes and buildings off their foundations and put many people at great risk. Responders’ rescue boats capsized, were disabled or could not be deployed because of treacherous conditions. Country Meadows Trailer Park, east of West Plains, had quickly flooded, trapping residents. There were reports of a person having a heart attack and people on the roofs of trailers that were being swept away. West Plains Firefighters Bice, Brockelbank, Jones and Thompson, and Highway Patrol troopers Kimes and Pond, determined to approach the trailer park from railroad track on utility terrain vehicles. They then cut through thick brush and then waded across a field in chest-high water. Reaching the park, the four firefighters and two troopers’ rescues included three people who had been struggling to hold on in a trailer swept off its foundation and a woman who was experiencing chest pains and had to be carried to safety through the flooded field. The UTVs were used to transport the victims to waiting responders. A total of seven residents were rescued by the team, working as one unit, overcoming floodwaters, floating debris, heavy rain, lightning and many other obstacles.  

Chris Bell, Gary Brower, Matt Cockrum, Richie Hammon, Grant Sholes and Kurt Wilbanks, West Plains Fire Department – On April 28, 2017, a second team of six West Plains firefighters and one civilian was focused on potentially catastrophic flash flooding that was turning small creeks into rushing rivers. Hundreds of homes were inundated. Howell County 911 was overwhelmed with rescue calls. Swift water rescue boats were not available. The team of Captain Wilbanks, Engineers Bell, Hammon and Sholes and Firefighters Brower and Cockrum, along with West Plains City Councilman Cary Stewart, proceeded in a firetruck, using a pike pole to find the roadway. They would continue to improvise in terribly adverse conditions – outfitting a borrowed johnboat and single paddle with forcible entry tools and rope rigging. They made rescues using the firetruck, boat and on foot through waist deep floodwater. In all, 92 people were rescued, with four patients delivered to the hospital by boat. Those rescued included the elderly, injured, a homebound elderly woman on oxygen and about three dozen college students who sought refuge on the roof of a dormitory.         

Public Safety Civilian Partnership Award: Awarded to a civilian who has provided valuable or courageous assistance to members of a Missouri public safety agency in an emergency situation.

Cary Stewart, nominated by West Plains Fire Department – On April 28, 2017, Cary Stewart, a West Plains resident and member of the West Plains City Council, participated as a member of the West Plains Fire Department team that rescued 92 people. The department considers his participation essential to the team’s success and worthy of commendation. 

Charles Barney and Sandra Straw, nominated by Missouri State Highway Patrol – On Feb. 7, 2017, during a traffic stop on Interstate 70 in Lafayette County, Trooper Beau Ryun, of Troop A, observed the driver he had stopped reach into his waistline as he approached Trooper Ryun’s patrol car as instructed. Trooper Ryun had the driver place his hands on the patrol car and frisked him, finding a pair of scissors in the driver’s waistline. The driver refused to follow Trooper Ryun’s instructions and began to fight with him. Trooper Ryun’s handcuffs fell to the ground and were out of reach as he struggled with the driver on the ground. He was unable to radio to inform headquarters of his situation. It was then that two motorists stopped along the interstate and approached. Sandra Straw was already on her cell phone with 911, requesting additional officers, as she approached. Ms. Straw lay on Timmons legs in an attempt to control him and wound up being kicked in the face. The second motorist, Charles Barney, was now on the scene and Trooper Ryun asked him to retrieve his handcuffs. Trooper Ryun also instructed Mr. Barney on how to use his radio to advise Troop A of the situation. Mr. Barney then helped with the effort to restrain the driver. This assistance allowed Trooper Ryun to reach and use his pepper spray on the driver. With the assistance of Ms. Straw and Mr. Barney, Trooper Ryun was able to handcuff the driver. Ms. Straw and Mr. Barney both could have kept driving on Interstate 70. Instead, they both chose to put themselves into a dangerous situation and came to the aid of a trooper, who was able to make an arrest with their assistance.

Governor Parson will present additional Missouri public safety awards to first responders and a civilian during a second ceremony in St. Louis this afternoon. 

Photographs for public use from today’s ceremony will be available on the Governor’s Flickr account,https://www.flickr.com/photos/141271541@N03/albums.