BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. —
It started with a home project gone wrong. U.S. Air Force Maj. Tyler Wilson attempted some electrical work in his outdoor shed that ended with flames and emergency responders in his backyard. After the fire was extinguished and the energy settled, Wilson walked over to the fire chief and asked if there was a fine or repercussion for having to call the fire department out. The fire chief replied, “Nope, but now you have to volunteer with us.”
Five years and almost 100 fire responses later, Wilson continues to volunteer at the Elm Creek Community Association Volunteer Fire Department (ECCA VFD). He also works full-time as the director of scheduling, chief of safety and B-1 Lancer pilot assigned to the 345th Bomb Squadron, Dyess Air Force Base.
He was driving home May 17 after an 8-hour shift, when he received an emergency dispatch notification from his volunteer firefighter app.
It was his address.
Wilson quickly clicked ‘I’m available’ and was the second volunteer firefighter to arrive on the scene.
“The fire actually started at my front gate and burned across my property,” said Wilson. “It was about three miles from the fire station.”
Wilson found himself battling the Mesquite Heat Fire, a wildfire that burned 10,960 acres over a total of twelve days, according to the Incident Information System website.
He fought the flames for 18 hours that first night, rested for about four hours, and worked another 18 hours shift. He did that for eight days, he said.
On day two, the wind speed increased to nearly 40 mph with 105 degrees of heat and about 4% humidity. That was the worst day there, said Wilson.
He was assigned as the truck commander for the emergency response vehicle, Brush 3, leading three other volunteer firefighters. The group included a spotter and two men working fire hoses on each side of the truck.
Wilson was driving Brush 3 back to a drop site when he received an urgent call that another emergency responder had become trapped in active fire, he said.
Wilson’s team immediately responded to the call.
They drove across scorched terrain and found the emergency vehicle on fire. Wilson instructed the two volunteers with hoses to hit his truck with water. Fortunately, the vehicle was still operational, said Wilson.
However, by the time they completed this task, the wind shifted from the south to the west and so did the smoke and flames.
“We were now in zero visibility,” said Wilson. “I was in an open cab truck, so there wasn’t a roof or windows. We were fully engulfed in fire with about 100 foot flames all around us.”
While driving through half a mile of flames and smoke, Wilson kept his composure, directed the other emergency responder’s vehicle out of danger, and advised his team to protect themselves.
“I had to push a path with the bumper through the fire and we got out of the active flames,” said Wilson. “The truck engine was on fire, the cabin filters were on fire, so the truck started stalling, the little canvas seats in the truck were on fire and then eight of my ten tires were on fire when we got out.”
Wilson emerged with minor second degree burns on his upper-back and face, after safely directing the the other emergency vehicle and transporting his own crew.
“I remember the embers raining down on me. I had protective gear on, but I think the stuff entered through my collar and landed on my back,” said Wilson. “If we hadn’t gotten to them, they could have burned up in the fire.”
Despite his injury, Wilson continued to fight the flames for another six days.
Wilson was joined by three fellow B-1 pilots who work with him at the 345th Bomb Squadron, Maj. Andrew Teague, Maj. Charles Kilchrist and Capt. Joseph Heyser.
“I didn’t want to just sit around when I knew I had a chance to help and watch this thing threaten our homes and community,” Said Heyser.
Despite skill level or experience, they each volunteered when the opportunity to join the fight presented itself.
“A lot of it parallels with our day-to-day mission here at the 345th Bomb Squadron,” said Heyser. “You may not know 100% of the specifics of the mission, but you pick it up as you go and trust the people on your crew to problem solve and work through the situation.”
Leaders in the community also recognized their dedication to service.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott visited the ECCA VFD and personally thanked these Airmen for their efforts in saving life and property, said Wilson.
U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington presented Wilson with a congressional coin for his heroism on day two of the Mesquite Heat Fire.
“There’s a real strong sense of community out here, what affects one of us affects all of us,” said Wilson. “It definitely renewed my dedication to service.”