FORT NOVOSEL, Ala. — When mere seconds mattered, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Nigel P. Huebscher, command chief warrant officer for 1st Aviation Brigade, was the first on the scene of a house fire in the vicinity of Bonifay, Florida, on Oct. 9, 2022, and helped save the lives of two residents.
For his heroism, he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal during a ceremony at Fort Novosel, August 7, 2023. The Soldier's Medal is the highest honor a Soldier can receive in an act of valor in a noncombat situation, equivalent to the Distinguished Flying Cross, had the act of heroism occurred during battle.
As the ceremony opened, 1st Aviation Brigade Chaplain Maj. Scott Kennis gave thanks for Huebscher’s selfless deed that “leaves us amazed and prompts us to much self-reflection to consider the depth of our own conviction of the God-given value of human life, and the willingness to sacrifice it all for one who is in peril.”
Maj. Gen. Michael C. McCurry, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Novosel commander, welcomed attendees and lauded Huebscher’s efforts.
“We’re here in the (U.S. Army Aviation Museum), and right around the corner there is the Hall of Heroes for Army Aviation, so no more fitting place to recognize a hero that’s living among us today in the form of CW5 Huebscher,” McCurry said.
Heroes are among us every day, and become known when they stand up and act, he explained.
By definition, “a hero is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities, and I think those of us who know Nigel and selected him to be command chief warrant officer, recognized that in him before these actions, this just helped solidify that in our mind,” he said.
The Soldier’s Medal is a peacetime medal, and an individual must face danger to the point of risking their own life in saving another, he explained.
“Two people are alive today because of his actions,” McCurry said. “I’m so thankful that you’re part of our formation, and you truly are above the best,” McCurry said.
On Oct. 9, Huebscher and his family were traveling north on Florida State Route 79, returning to the Wiregrass area from a trip to Mexico Beach, when they saw flames on the porch area and going up the side of a house just north of Bonifay. They turned their vehicle around to see if they could be of assistance.
Huebscher’s wife Devi quickly called 911. Heubscher jumped a locked gate and made his way to the house. He noticed a large pile of rags burning on the wooden porch. An elderly woman came to the door and seemed confused; Huebscher directed her away from the house toward a safe area.
He entered the house to determine if people were inside and discovered an elderly gentleman asleep in a bed. He woke the gentleman, who was confused to have a stranger in his home, and repeatedly told him the house was on fire. Huebscher led him to the door. By this point, the smoke was thick black inside the home, and the exterior was engulfed in flames.
Seeing the flames across the open doorway, the gentleman turned to go back toward his bedroom.
By this time, Florida Air National Guard Maj. Bradley J. Vaughn, a senior air defense officer at the 601st Air Operation Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, and his family had also noticed the fire from the road, as they were headed back to the Panama City Beach area from a trip to Aplin Farms and stopped to help.
At that point, the fire was exponentially worse. Devi, on the phone with 911, yelled to him that her husband was inside the house. Vaughn approached the house, but the flames and heat were too intense to try to go inside at that point, and he could hear popping noises on the inside of the house, as if ammunition had been ignited.
Huebscher suddenly shoved the older gentleman and himself through the flames, out of the house, and the two of them spilled out into the yard. Within seconds the house exploded and a fireball shot out, flames scorching the yard.
As Huebscher collected himself, Vaughn ran toward the elderly gentleman who had fallen and was still in harm’s way and got him out of the flames to safety.
Emergency responders arrived on the scene, and Huebscher relayed the information to them. The residents of the home were soon taken by ambulance for medical treatment. Huebscher later learned the man was airlifted for medical treatment for burns. Thankfully, the residents both survived the incident.
Huebscher, in his remarks, thanked leaders for the opportunity to serve at Fort Novosel, and his parents for the values instilled in him growing up.
Time seemed to slow down that day. “It was immediately clear what needed to be done, and I just happened to be the first person available to it,” Huebscher said.
He gave credit to the “training, the actions and ethic inherent in the Army Values and training every Soldier receives and internalizes as part of our profession of arms.”
Huebscher said he was humbled and proud to receive the award. He said he shared the medal with his wife and daughter, other unnamed good Samaritans, first responders and Vaughn who also heroically ran into the fire, all of whom were part of the team effort that day to save lives.
“This traumatic situation brought a group of complete random strangers together as a team. This impromptu team all did what had to be done to help another complete random stranger, despite the danger to themselves and their safety. I am proud to have been a part of that team, and I am proud to be part of the Army team.”
After assisting the elderly lady that day, and pulling the elderly gentleman out of the fire to safety, Vaughn also retrieved bottled waters to give to people from his family’s camping gear. A week after the incident, a water bottle could still be seen exactly where it was left that evening, on top of a fence post by the same gate Huebscher jumped to enter the property, with the scorched remains of the home and yard in the distance behind it — where Huebscher was able to get the gentleman and himself out of the house just in time.
“I think that whole event was a matter of seconds really,” Huebscher said in an interview. “Thirty seconds to a minute earlier and I’d never have seen the flames. Thirty seconds to a minute later and I’d never got out of the house. Timing was everything in this case.”
Travis Cook, fire chief for the City of Bonifay, presented a token of appreciation to Huebscher.
“In my opinion, there is no such thing as a coincidence. I wholeheartedly believe God places each and every person at specific locations at specific times for specific reasons,” Cook said in an interview.
“If not for the selfless, heroic efforts of these two men, I believe this would have been a fatal fire for the homeowner.”