ANSBACH, Germany -- Six off-duty Oklahoma National Guardsmen rushed into a burning building in a city in western Ukraine, raising the alarm and evacuating civilians before firefighters arrived.
The soldiers rescued the occupants of an apartment in Lviv, an hour's drive from the Yavoriv Combat Training Center where they were stationed. They were visiting Lviv after hours last week, taking in the sights of the historic old town, when they noticed smoke billowing from the building.
"We were walking out of a store, and out of the right corner of my eye I saw a plume of smoke," said Spc. Vincent Humerickhouse. "We started running in that general direction, (and) there were people just standing around, not really reacting to what was going on, so we instantly went upstairs."
The soldiers reached the building several minutes before any local firefighters were on the scene. Luckily, one of them, Sgt. Nelson Deese, is a volunteer firefighter in his hometown of Crowder, Okla., and knew how to respond quickly.
"As soon as we got to the apartment we noticed that there were a couple (of) people standing outside, looking up, but no one was really reacting," Deese said. "So, we immediately ran inside to make sure it was clear; it was not. There were people inside who did not realize their home was on fire."
The soldiers found the fire blazing on the second floor, and they began banging on doors to alert the Ukrainians to the danger spreading toward them.
None of the Americans spoke Ukrainian, so they struggled at first to get the message across. They met several Ukrainians who were initially upset because of the pounding on their doors. But by their frantic pointing and gesturing, the soldiers managed to get the message across and get those people to safety.
"We're trained well, (and) we know what we're supposed to do, so use your training to react to any situation and just do the right thing. Reacting to something like that should be second nature," Humerickhouse said.
The soldiers said their command was very proud of their actions, although some of their mothers and significant others scolded them for taking the risk.