TOPEKA — (Nov. 12, 2020) Kansas State Fire Marshal Doug Jorgensen awarded a Topeka Firefighter with the 2020 Tom McGaughey Fire Service Award at the Topeka City Council meeting Tuesday. Each year, the Office of the State Fire Marshal joins with the Kansas State Association of Fire Chiefs and Kansas State Firefighters Association to honor a firefighter or team of firefighters for heroic actions above and beyond the call of duty.
After being nominated by Topeka Fire Chief Craig Duke, Lieutenant Matthew Frehe, was selected for this year’s Tom McGaughey Fire Service Award for his heroic actions, saving the life of a two-year-old child at a house fire in Topeka on the afternoon of Aug. 4, 2020.
“It is an honor to be able to recognize Lt. Frehe and the Topeka Fire Department,” Jorgensen said. “Firefighters put their lives on the line every day, without hesitation, to save the lives of strangers. This award is our way of saying thank you. Your sacrifice makes a difference.”
The Topeka Fire Department was dispatched to a reported structure fire located at 710 SW Polk Street. The crews were informed that there was fire coming from the second floor of a two-story residential structure. Callers were also informing dispatchers that there may be a child trapped on the second floor of the structure.
An occupant of the house informed Captain Brian Ginter and Lt. Frehe that her two-year-old daughter was still inside the burning structure in a bedroom located on the second floor. Capt. Ginter and Lt. Frehe immediately went to side of the structure where the mother showed them the window of the bedroom. Utilizing a ladder that neighbors had tried to use to enter the second story bedroom window, Lt. Frehe, without hesitation, ascended the ladder and entered the heavy smoked filled bedroom in an attempt to locate the child. Lt. Frehe made a coordinated search of the bedroom in an attempt to locate the child. As he crawled through the bedroom in search of the child, he located what seemed to be bunk beds. Lt. Frehe, unable to locate the child on the bunk beds, was about to move further around the room when he found the child on the floor of the room. Lt. Frehe carried the lifeless body of the child back to the bedroom window and was able to make his way out the window, where he handed the child to personnel on the ground. The lifeless, non-breathing child was tended to by medical personnel on the scene and was transported to Stormont Vail Hospital. The child was resuscitated and remained in hospital before being released eight days later.
“The professionalism and teamwork Lt. Frehe and the crew showed that day was amazing,” Duke said at the presentation of the award at the City Council meeting. “I am so proud of Topeka Fire Department and everything they do every day.”
The Tom McGaughey Fire Service Award recognizes exemplary accomplishments and acts of heroism by firefighters and other persons at fire-related incidents in Kansas. The individual or team is recognized for their acts above and beyond their basic duties and responsibilities, and for exemplifying the finest traditions of the fire service. The award is named in memory of Wichita Fire Chief Tom McGaughey who perished in a fire, along with three others (Chief Fire Inspector Merle O. Wells, Firefighter Jimmy L. Austin and Firefighter Dale J. Mishler) at the Yingling Auto Dealership on November 21, 1968.
“Thank you so much,” Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla added, “for putting your life in danger so others don’t have to.”