A South Dakota National Guard soldier died Friday while responding to a house fire in the western part of the state as a member of his town’s volunteer fire department.
Staff Sgt. David Fischer, 43, served as a survey team member with the Rapid City-based 82nd Civil Support Team. He was killed while battling a fire with the Sturgis Volunteer Fire Department and other local first-responders, according to a South Dakota National Guard statement Sunday.
Fischer served as the assistant chief with the Sturgis Volunteer Fire Department, where he had worked for 22 years.
“The South Dakota National Guard family, along with the firefighting and first-responder community, are mourning the tragic loss of Staff Sgt. David Fischer who died in the line of duty protecting his community,” Maj. Gen. Tim Reisch, adjutant general of the South Dakota Guard, said in the statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with David and his family during this difficult time.”
“David exemplified what it means to be a soldier, firefighter and first responder – a selfless person willing to put his life in danger to help and defend his community, state and nation,” Reisch added. “He will be deeply missed.”
Fischer was reportedly killed by the force of a propane tank explosion, according to the the Rapid City Journal. The fire also took the life of an 82-year-old local resident.
South Dakota fire information officer Lt. Jim Bussell said Fischer was one of the first firefighters to respond to a report of a structure fire Friday afternoon, the Journal reported.
When Fischer arrived, he and his fellow firefighters found a single-family home engulfed in flames, Bussell said.
While visiting his hometown of Manteca, California, a Phoenix-based airman rushed into multiple burning buildings to awaken residents and usher them out of danger.
The firefighters faced narrow gravel roads with overgrown shrubbery, as well as congestion of homes, garbage and parked vehicles. All of this contributed to a “large amount of combustible fuel for the fire,” Bussell said.
A 500-gallon propane tank eventually exploded in a massive ball of flame, the Journal reported.
Fischer was killed during the explosion as he attempted to move a Chevrolet Suburban owned by the Sturgis firefighters and used as a command vehicle. A large portion of the exploding tank struck Fischer, killing him instantly.
Fischer was a 23-year veteran of the South Dakota National Guard. He leaves behind a wife and seven children.
He was also a veteran of the Iraq war, where he deployed with the state’s 216th Engineer Detachment’s firefighting team from 2004 to 2005.
“Staff Sgt. Fischer was an original member of the 82nd Civil Support Team when it became a full-time unit in 2005 and instrumental in standing up the team,” said Lt. Col. Dale Gadbois, the unit’s commander. “He was one of the finest soldiers I knew who would help anyone and everyone in times of need. From the beginning it was obvious he put his service before himself and paid the ultimate price rushing in to help the community in an emergency. It was an honor to have served with him the past 13 years.”