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Home » Valor Awards » 2006 Individual Valor Award

2006 Individual Valor Award


Deputy Chief John M. Sheyka
Jersey City Fire Department

Although Deputy Chief Sheyka had trained in the military and had previous successes dealing with hostage situations, this was a scenario unlike any other.  When he arrived he could not know whether the hostage was dead or alive, whether the gun was loaded, whether it was a live hand grenade strapped to the suspect’s arm, where the gunman was hiding in the basement, or – of course – how it would all turn out.

On arrival he learned a Secaucus police officer had interrupted an armed robbery and a hand grenade toting gunman had forced a shopkeeper into the store’s basement.  Knowing a flimsy plywood door would be no protection in an explosion, they broke it down, but without entering the basement and further endangering the hostage, they could not ascertain the exact location or condition of the men.

There was no phone line for communication, so Sheyka had to rely on shouted interchanges without benefit of nuances or body language.  As he listened, the gunman ranted and raved about crime, cops, discrimination, the war in Iraq and other topics unrelated to the situation, but for hours the voice of the hostage was never heard.
Threats and taunts made it obvious the gunman wanted the police to rush in.  Several times when he asked for water, Sheyka tossed containers just out of reach.  The gunman couldn’t get them without exposing himself.  Eventually he robber untied the hostage and told him to pick up the water bottles.

Weak and frightened, the victim stumbled as he moved toward the door. Sheyka grabbed him, turning his back to the suspect but shielding the hostage from gunfire, and shoved him outside. With the hostage safe, Sheyka continued to talk, urging surrender. Six hours went by as the gunman challenged the cops to come and get him, boasting he would not die alone.  A K-9 dog was sent for and Sheyka told the gunman the dog would be sent in to disable him.

In the five minutes he was given to surrender or face the dog, the gunman came unglued at the thought of hurting or being hurt by a dog.  When the dog barked menacingly, the gunman yelled “I got something for you” and tossed the grenade through the door.  Remarkably, it did not go off, and the gunman began to cry.   Warned one more time to come out or the dog would go in, the gunman hesitated as he saw officers moving to apprehend him.  Sheyka stepped in front of them and said to the man, “Dammit, you are not going to die. Take my hand.  I’ve been talking to you for six hours.”  He took Sheyka’s hand and stepped out peaceably.

As he was being led away, he turned once to look at Sheyka and said, “You guys are good.”

Sheyka was born in Jersey City and still resides there. He graduated from Lincoln High School and earned a B.S. in Chemistry from Saint Peters College. He once worked as a military police officer.  He’s compiled an amazing 34 years of police service without ever taking a day off for illness or injury.

During those years he has received more than 200 awards from City, State, County, Federal, out-of-state, and other agencies. He received a Valor Award from the 200 Club in 2001.


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