JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
At the beginning of every pool season at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, MariAnne Clark tells the lifeguards she supervises they have the most important job of all the summer hires.
Their job is to save lives.
On the morning of Sept. 20, Clark’s lifeguards did exactly that – only it was not at JBSA-Randolph’s Center Pool, where they were accomplishing end-of-season cleaning after the facility had closed.
Noticing a plume of black smoke in the distance, a “squadron” of those lifeguards bolted for the area the smoke was coming from and saw a house a few blocks away was on fire.
Quickly, they alerted the family and, with the help of neighbors, extinguished the blaze that had climbed up a wall on the right side of the structure and into a utility room.
During a 502nd Air Base Wing staff meeting Sept. 24 at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, Clark told the group commanders in attendance about the remarks she makes to lifeguards at the beginning of every swim season and summarized the decisive steps the students took that Sunday morning in the officers’ family housing area.
Moments later, Brian Hoffman, JBSA vice director, presented a quintet of lifeguards – Maiah Kuzan, Sam Landreth, Blake Mai, Dominic Mercado and Matt Oakland – with coins recognizing the wingmen's heroic efforts in averting a potential tragedy. The lifeguards, ranging in age from 16 to 21, were also the recipients of enthusiastic applause from a grateful audience.
“I’m very proud of them,” Clark said. “I’ve had Dominic for six years, and the rest of them for one year and up, so they’re a great, great team of people.”
Although more than a dozen lifeguards were involved in the life-saving mission, the five honored at the staff meeting played leading roles.
Maiah and Dominic called 911 while Sam sprinted toward the father, who was in the backyard on the other side of the house, to tell him about the blaze. Sam and the father ran upstairs to alert the rest of the family – the man’s wife and three daughters – and Blake escorted them safely outside through the front door.
“I know they were probably surprised to see me – some random dude in their house on a Sunday morning, but I was telling them their house was on fire,” Sam said. “The dad and I then ran back outside to fight the fire.”
Matt had already found a fire extinguisher and was fighting the blaze with the help of a few neighbors.
“The neighbors, seeing all of us running, immediately came out to help us – that made it a whole different story,” Blake said. “It wasn’t just us – it was everybody working together.”
Subsequently, JBSA-Randolph Fire Emergency Services arrived on the scene, but the lifeguards and neighbors had worked so quickly and completely that little was left to do.
“We got there and knocked out the rest of the hot spots,” said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Tvrdy, acting assistant fire chief.
The fire started in a trashcan near the house that contained ashes from the family’s barbecue grill and spread to a fence and up the side of the house, charring part of the exterior and causing a window to crack and eventually break.
“It was starting to get into other areas and had the potential to really cause serious damage,” Tvrdy said.
Interior damage was minimal, except for vents leading into the attic.
“Thank God the lifeguards were there,” Tvrdy said. “They really prevented a catastrophe from happening.”
The father said was not aware of the blaze until he saw the lifeguards running toward the house, and then Sam told him his house was on fire.
“The scariest part was that the fire was literally underneath my youngest daughter’s bedroom while she was playing,” he said.
The father told the lifeguards that his daughter summed up their efforts the best by writing them a card that read, “Lifeguards are firemen in disguise.”
“That day they saved four lives for sure,” he said. “I am so grateful to them for being so aware and so caring.”
Clark’s supervisor, Brian Roush, 502nd Force Support Squadron director, called the lifeguards “a great group of young adults.”
“They all did an awesome job all summer with an incident-free pool season, and then to finish the year with this amazing emergency response to a potential lifesaving event as a team shows they are all capable of great things,” he said.
The lifeguards were simply responding to someone in need, Blake said.
“We went over there with whatever we had on,” he said. “Some of us were missing shirts; I was barefoot. We just went over there to help.”
Sam said the lifeguards’ response was “the right thing to do.”
“You just see somebody that needs help and kind of react, especially growing up in an on-base community where you’re taught to be close to your neighbors and help those in need,” he said. “It just feels like I helped prevent something worse from happening along with the people who were there helping.”