WINOOSKI, Vt. — Senior Airman Garrett Shepler was driving home to Plattsburgh when he happened to come upon a structure fire on Main Street in Winooski.
“I remember sitting there in traffic, and all of a sudden I just looked over, and I saw these two guys standing outside their door — they were looking back inside the building and looked panicked.”
“All of a sudden my adrenline kicked in and I’m like ‘That’s a fire.’”
Shepler, a weapons loader with the Vermont National Guard Maintenance Support Group at the 158th Fighter Wing, turned on the blue light bar on his Durango that he uses as a volunteer firefighter with Cumberland Head Volunteer Fire Department.
He made his way through traffic and pulled up on the full-blown structure fire at Pecor Auto.
“There were no flames showing, just pitch-black smoke,” he said, adding that the smoke was the thickest he had ever seen and was “barreling in circles out of the door.”
“I went to run in, then the smoke hit me and I wasn’t thinking, so I was taking off my fleece and my blouse while yelling to the two men standing outside, ‘Who else is in there?’
“When they said, ‘No one,’ I was relieved.”
The owner, Steve Pecor, was really upset, saying, “That’s my shop.”
Shepler took control, asking him about the fire.
Pecor told Shepler there were accelerants, including propane, gasoline and oil inside, and also a vehicle.
Pecor wanted to move his truck and would have had to go back into the burning building to get the keys.
Shepler kept him from making the attempt.
“One thing that could have changed the whole situation, was the owner wanted to open the garage doors,” he said.
“I had to explain to him that you could create a backdraft by increasing the supply of oxygen to the quickly developing fire.”