In a twist of fate, a soldier and an airman became an unlikely heroic duo after an elderly couple’s house went up in flames in Bonifay, Florida.
One the night of Oct. 9, the two service members were traveling in opposite directions with their families after taking vacations.
Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Nigel Huebscher was headed home from a trip to Mexico Beach, while Florida Air National Guard Maj. Bradley J. Vaughn was traveling south to Panama City Beach.
Huebscher and his family first saw the unidentified couple’s porch burning and immediately drove up to help. His wife called 911 as he found a disoriented elderly woman at the door.
After getting her out of the house, Huebscher went inside to find the woman’s husband sleeping.
“Huebscher repeatedly told the man the house was on fire, and eventually he got out of bed and walked toward the door, with Huebscher also pushing him along,” reads an Army release. “By the time they reached the door, the smoke was thick black inside the home, and the exterior was engulfed in flames. As the fire came across the open doorway, the man started to turn around and go back toward his bedroom.”
At the same time, Vaughn and his family drove up to the house.
“My husband went in the house!” Vaughn heard Huebscher’s wife yell to the 911 dispatcher.
“From the time that we pulled over to the time that I got to the house, the house fire had gotten exponentially worse,” Vaughn said in the Army’s release. “As I hopped out of the truck there was a little bit of smoke, but I could make out the front porch and the front door. But as I got done helping the woman get to the gate, with all the flames and smoke I couldn’t tell where the front door was anymore.”
Trapped inside as the flames engulfed the house, Huebscher pushed himself and the elderly man out of what remained of the doorway.
“Out of nowhere, a blockbuster movie, all of a sudden I see this man come tumbling out — he was flying out through the smoke with an old man, and they both kind of spill out in the smoke and fall,” Vaughn said.
Despite the raging fire, Vaughn ran into the flames to pull the elderly man to safety.
“If Nigel had not stopped and gone in when he did, I don’t think either of those people would have made it out,” Vaughn said. “I was the second one there. I would have got there, we would have called 911, and I would have watched that house burn down, just wondering, hoping, praying there was no one inside.”
Luckily everyone survived. And while Vaughn relayed his gratitude for Huebscher’s heroism, the latter also praised the airman heartily.
“Watching Vaughn go into that fire was probably the bravest thing I’ve ever seen,” Huebscher said. “I got the guy out of the house, but he would have died on his front yard if weren’t for Brad Vaughn.”
In all the chaos, neither service member exchanged much personal information with the other. It wasn’t until they connected on social media that they learned of the military connection.
Travis Cook, the mayor of Bonifay, said he believed their presence was fate.
“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 told the Army. “If not for the selfless, heroic efforts of these two men, I believe this would have been a fatal fire for the homeowner.”
For Huebscher and Vaughen, rushing into the fire was a simple choice.
“It was just the right thing to do,” Huebscher said.
The couple has not been identified, though their daughter reportedly thanked the men on Facebook for saving her parents. The fire’s cause has yet to be shared.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.