Gonzales Fire Chief Keith Schmidt started to develop an idea of who the winner of the David B. Walshak Lifetime Achievement Award was as he listened to Mayor Connie Kacir list the individual’s accomplishments. It was when he saw his wife Sara take out a box of tissues and grab his hand that it officially hit him.
Schmidt was awarded the lifetime award at the Gonzales Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture Banquet on Thursday, Feb. 6 for his life dedicated to service. Schmidt said he was humbled and just a little bit embarrassed by the award.
“I got to say, I’m not that old,” Schmidt joked to The Inquirer.
Schmidt was compelled to dedicate his life to firefighting in high school after he and then girlfriend, now wife Sara were approached by a classmate asking for clothes, including underwear, to spare. That classmate had lost everything in a fire.
“At the point you don’t have any underwear, that’s devastating,” Schmidt said.
For over 33 years now, Schmidt has committed himself to firefighting. He began in high school and rose through the ranks to become Gonzales Fire Department Chief in 2009, a title he still holds. All of Schmidt’s near 10,000 hours of firefighting has been done on a volunteer basis.
“He has gone in burning buildings to save lives, worked while at risk of a burning building exploding or collapsing, suffered heat exhaustion, worked traffic accidents and as a first responder, has witnessed the loss of life,” Kacir said during her banquet speech introducing Schmidt. “Firefighting is intense with no moral ambiguity. During fires and explosions, we flee running the opposite direction, but not him, he runs into it.”
Schmidt is also very active outside of firefighting. He has coached Little League, spent 30 plus years with the Gonzales Odd Fellows Lodge, served on the city’s Golf Course Advisory Board and with the Texas Hereford Association and with many other local groups. Schmidt is also the president of a multi-million-dollar oil and gas business.
Schmidt wanted to thank his wife and his crew for always being there for him and having his back.
“They all do the same thing I’m doing, there’s no difference,” Schmidt said of other first responders. “That’s what every first responder does.”
Schmidt also shared an anecdote on how being a first responder can even interrupt mundane day-to-day tasks like figuring out dinner plans.
“Well about that time, the pager goes off for a fire. So, (my wife) just kind of looks up at me and says, ‘well I guess you’re going to that’ and I sit there and don’t really say anything. About that time, my battalion chief gets on the radio and says he’s in route and I say ‘no ma’am, battalion chiefs got it, I’m good.’ So, back to the conversation of where we want to go. I think that we don’t talk for the next 30 seconds and in that time, we have a second fire, completely different from the first fire and she looks up and goes ‘see you later’ and out the driveway I go,” Schmidt said. “(My wife) has allowed me to do this and supported me throughout all these years. I don’t know how to give them the right amount of praise, but yeah without her allowing me to do it, there’s no possible way it would’ve ever happened.”