Soldier, contractors extinguish fire in Fort Drum housing area
October 10, 2013
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- A 725th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company Soldier and two contractors are being lauded for their assistance in suppressing a fire in an on-post housing area Sept. 18.
Sgt. Adam Ponsell said he smelled something in the air as he walked from his residence to his car that morning. He assumed it was probably related to ongoing construction in the area, until he turned a corner in the road and saw black smoke coming from the backyard of a residence.
Ponsell stopped his car and noticed a woman standing in the street, talking on her phone, presumably calling 911 to report the fire. Unsure whether there were any occupants in the house or the backyard, Ponsell jumped the fence into the yard to see if he could determine the source of the fire.
"I saw that it was a propane tank (of an outdoor grill) with flames leading up to it," Ponsell said. "The flames were probably 10 (or) 15 feet high, making their way up the side of the house."
Ponsell jumped back over the fence into the front yard, where the Family -- a military spouse, her mother, and her two small children -- were standing. A growing crowd of onlookers gathered, and Ponsell quickly instructed them to move back.
"My main concern was the safety of not only the occupants of the house, but the people in the surrounding area as well," Ponsell said. "People wanted to come and look, but I wanted to make sure everyone kept back a safe distance, in case it exploded."
Benjamin Carrol and Doug St. Lewis, two contractors doing road construction in the area, arrived to lend a hand. A neighbor rushed over and handed Ponsell a fire extinguisher from her house.
"I got the extinguisher ready and handed it over to one of the construction workers who was right there next to the fire," Ponsell said.
St. Lewis sprayed the fire with the extinguisher while Carrol used a multipurpose tool to pull the propane tank away from the flames. Ponsell retrieved a fire extinguisher from inside the house and passed it to St. Lewis, who was able to put out the fire.
Shortly thereafter, firefighters arrived on site and took over. As they asked Ponsell questions about the blaze, neighbors came over to express their thanks for his brave assistance.
"I was doing what I thought was right," Ponsell said. "I didn't even think about (the risk) -- I was just thinking about the safety of others."
Capt. Justin Gerron, 725th EOD Company commander, explained that putting the safety of others before one's personal safety is a way of life for EOD personnel.
"Sgt. Ponsell embodies the type of Soldiers that would normal join EOD," Gerron said. "Caring about the lives of other people above your own safety -- that's selfless service."
Capt. Tim Mulvaney, fire prevention supervisor, said that the best way to prevent an outdoor grill from catching fire is to be sure to keep it clean and properly maintained.
"Make sure the grill is clean and that there isn't excessive grease, but the biggest thing is to be sure that the grill is a safe distance from any combustible materials," he said.
Mulvaney said that neighbors are often the first to notice a housing fire. While it's important to be aware of your surroundings and look out for another, he stressed that it is not advisable for untrained individuals to attempt to handle an emergency on their own.
"If you have any emergency and do not have training, call 911," he said. "Don't get in over your head trying to solve the problem yourself."