Guard firefighters save lives in fire

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Erika Wonn
  • 121st Air Refueling Wing
Two Ohio Air National Guard firefighters were recently credited with saving 10 civilian homes and countless lives and property when they jumped into action while volunteering in an off-base area outside of Baghdad International Airport, Iraq.

Senior Master Sgt. Judson Shull, from the Mansfield-based 179th Airlift Wing, and Airman 1st Class Robert Bissett, from the Columbus-based 121st Air Refueling Wing, Ohio Air National Guard, are deployed to Sather Air Base at Baghdad International Airport, where they provide air field fire protection. The firemen were off duty, volunteering to educate Iraqi Boy and Girl Scouts about fire prevention and safety Aug. 29 when a fire broke out in a nearby Iraqi housing facility.

"You could see plumes of smoke billowing from the houses," said Bissett, a Pataskala, Ohio, native. "We jumped in our truck with no gear and rushed to the fire."

When the pair arrived at the scene, two homes in a 12-unit housing development were in flames. Shull, a Belleville, Ohio, native, rushed to the back of the complex while Bissett went around front. When they were satisfied all of the residents had been cleared to safety, the two waited for the Iraqi fire department to arrive. When they arrived, Shull went inside with the firemen to assist and provide guidance while Bissett grabbed an ax to ventilate rooms and help search for hot spots. After the fire was under control, the two firemen stepped back while the Iraqi firemen completed their overhaul procedures.

"It's our duty to act. We happened to be in the right place at the right time," Bissett said. "We were just glad we could help."

The two Airmen were credited by Iraqi officials with keeping the fire from spreading throughout the housing complex, which could have destroyed 10 more Iraqi homes, and may have had worse consequences.

"Fortunately, there were no major injuries or lives lost, and we did manage to save the family van although it suffered fire damage," Shull said.

Ironically, the Airmen were giving classes in fire safety at an Iraqi Scout meeting nearby when the fire broke out in the civilian housing complex. Frequently, firefighters from deployed units volunteer to spend some of their sparse free time educating Iraqi citizens about fire risks and prevention to protect their families and communities.

"Little is known to most of these families we talk to about fire," Bissett said. "It's just not as well taught as it is in America."

Shull is an Explorer Post Scout leader back in Ohio.

"The Iraqi Scouts pay serious attention during these classes, for tragically, some of them know friends or relatives who have died in fires," Shull said.

The sergeant said the Scouts are much like the ones he teaches in his hometown--young and eager to learn. He said smoke detectors and batteries, which are commonplace in America, are desperately needed in Iraq.

Both Airmen received certificates and coins from the 447th Expeditionary Airlift Wing commander, Col. James P. Savoy. They have also been invited to visit the Ohio Senate when they return from Iraq.

The Ohio Air National Guardmembers return from deployment soon and said they are looking forward to being back home with their families and friends after their eye-opening tour of duty.

"American media tries its best to paint a picture of what it's like in a deployed setting, but being here brings everything into a new light," Bissett said.

"It's been very rewarding meeting and working alongside fellow firefighters from all over the U.S. and Iraq," Shull said. "I am proud to say that I would walk into a fire alongside any firefighter here with pure confidence that we have each other's back."