FARMINGTON — While off-duty and outside his parents' Kirtland home Aug. 28, New Mexico State Police Officer Joseph Schake rescued three people from a burning vehicle that had crashed nearby.

As a fire in the truck's engine compartment began to spread, Schake noticed there were two small children trapped in child restraint seats.

Schake was able to pull a young girl through the truck's rear window after she released herself from the safety device. The driver, who was still disoriented from the crash, began to roll down his window in an effort to escape.

Schake smashed the window and pulled the driver out.

With one small child still trapped inside the truck, Schake got into the pickup truck's bed, reached through the rear window and pulled the small boy to safety.

"My life had no thought whatsoever in my mind," he said. "I knew what needed to be done, and I did it. It's a totally different situation when children are involved."

For his efforts both on- and off-duty, including his actions that saved three people from the aforementioned traffic crash, the state police officer was recently awarded one of the nation's most prestigious law enforcement honors for his professional services in 2006.

Despite the recognition Schake received in being an Honorable Mention winner of the Top Cops Awards, he was humble when talking about why he deserved it.

"When I found out I actually got it, I was honored that they accepted me because it's a pretty prestigious honor," he said.


"I personally feel there were probably other officers who were more deserving of it than I was."

An independent awards committee chooses one winning case from each state, U.S. territory and the District of Columbia. In 2006, Schake was chosen to represent New Mexico.

"He takes his job very seriously," Capt. Noe Galvan said. "He likes to do things the way they're supposed to be done. He doesn't like to circumvent police procedures."

Galvan described Schake as being consistent, dependable and above all, professional. Schake, who has been a state police officer for four years, is a member of the New Mexico Dive Team and Emergency Response Team, and is certified as a body guard for dignitaries.

Still, Schake said saving three people from a burning vehicle is just part of being a "decent human being."

"I'd never had an adrenaline high like that before," he said of the truck crash. "It's one of the most dangerous situations I've ever been in. When the other state police officer showed up, he kept an eye on me because I was hopped up on adrenaline."

Schake said he did what he hopes anyone else would have done given the situation.

Throughout 2006, the award-winning officer also issued more than 900 traffic citations, investigated 84 criminal cases and 25 traffic crashes, made 15 felony criminal arrests, 75 misdemeanor criminal arrests and 20 DWI arrests.

Schake said he plans to attend the Top Cops award banquet with his wife on May 12 in Washington, D.C.

Rhys Saunders: