At home, most of us take solace in being able to rest from our day’s activities. But sometimes, that rest is shaken when we are called back to help neighbors in our community. Such was the case for Petty Officer 1st Class Megan Vega.
Around 2 a.m. on a fall night, Vega was awakened by the sound and subsequent signals of a fire at her neighbor’s home.
“I grabbed my cell phone and ran down the hall to the room my mother was staying and told her I saw a fire next door. Then I ran downstairs, still in my pajamas, to see what was happening,” said Vega as she reflected on the night of the fire.
What she saw once she was outside: a home fire blazing out of control. Two occupants were visible: neighbor Ray Elliot and his daughter, Stephanie. Stephanie was safely outside, but Ray had decided to fight the fire with a commercial garden hose; and he was losing the fight. From inside the doorway, Ray wouldn’t listen to his daughter’s calls and was failing in his attempt to combat the fire.
“He may have been a little out of it because of the fire and the smoke inhalation, but he just wasn’t listening to anyone,” Vega said.
What Vega observed was a “two-alarm” blaze, that Ray had no chance to subdue. Firefighting crews were on their way, but Ray was unresponsive to pleas to evacuate his home and move to safety. He was drawn into trying to stop the fire from spreading. Unfortunately the scene was getting worse.
Vega took in the scene and evaluated her next course of action, something she teaches every day as an instructor at Training Center Petaluma. Vega instructs new Coast Guardsmen to become trained operations specialists at their “A-School.” She trains and mentors more than 150 apprentice operations specialists every year, ensuring operational units have the best watchstanders to answer the call. She helps these students determine situational awareness and direct the appropriate response. The skills she imparts to our future watchstanders came to bear when she viewed this situation.
It has been said that operations specialists are the “eyes, ears and voice of the Coast Guard for the maritime community.” That night, Vega was the eyes, ears and voice for her entire community.
Realizing Ray wasn’t listening to his daughter, and assessing that something had to happen, Vega entered the home and pulled Ray to safety. Fortunately, Ray only had breathing problems due to smoke inhalation. Had Vega not responded and pulled him away from danger, it’s unknown what would have happened.
Operations specialists train for these situations every day. They train to be the calm voice of the Coast Guard during some of the most extraordinary events. It’s not often an expert watchstander has to directly respond to someone in need. And that’s just what Vega did. She was ready to act.