Fire survivors live to tell others
By Staff Sgt. Rob Hazelett, 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 18, 2007
WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --
A routine stop at a local intersection turned into an extraordinary event for Susan Wagner and her 16-year-old daughter Brooklynn, June 25, when the truck they were driving in burst into flames.
The wife and daughter of Master Sgt. Phillip Wagner, 509th Maintenance Squadron, were driving a 1992 Dodge Ram, which belonged to Tech. Sgt. Joe Clark, 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
Sergeant Clark and his wife Jenny, who were on vacation in North Carolina, had asked the Wagners to watch their home and use their truck to help donate a bed to a needy family.
The Wagners were on their way home when the truck stalled at a stop sign on the corners of Washington and Salem Avenues in Knob Noster, Mo.
"I tried to start it again, and a cloud of smoke came out of the hood up at the windshield. Sparks and fire soon followed," Mrs. Wagner said. "Brooklynn and I got out, and headed toward some houses to call 911."
Mrs. Wagner said the street was smoky and it was difficult to see much of anything; however, they were able to witness the onslaught of the vehicle's deterioration.
"We saw all the belts melting and dropping out of the engine onto the ground," she explained. "Then a big flame shot straight up in the air from the engine. Everything continued melting - even the windows and a front tire, which exploded.
Even though help arrived in 10-12 minutes, the truck was engulfed in flames before the fire trucks or the police could get there, she said.
Mother and daughter felt fortunate to escape the blaze unharmed. Nevertheless, because the accident happened so fast, they realized the outcome could have been much different.
"We were very lucky to be at a stop sign, and have a chance to jump out," Mrs. Wagner said. "The response team said we could have been killed if it went up in flames at 65-miles per hour on the highway."
Because of the extensive damage to the truck, Mrs. Wagner said the response team could not pin-point the actual cause of the fire, but they believed it may have been a loose fuel line and an electrical spark because the fire began at the windshield.
Sergeant Wagner, who was TDY to Las Vegas the week the fire happened, was relieved his family got out unscathed.
"When my wife called and told me about the fire, I was shocked to say the least," Sergeant Wagner said. "I thank God they were not injured, and I'm glad the Clark's had insurance on the truck."
Sergeant Clark met the Wagners when they became neighbors here in 2001. He recalled his emotions when he first heard about the fire.
"The only thing that went through my mind was, 'Thank God no one was trapped inside the truck.'" Sergeant Clark said. "I can replace the truck, but you can't replace people."
Mrs. Wagner reflected on being able to tell others about their experience.
"Sometimes you don't get a second chance," she said. "You never realize how fast things can go wrong. I feel awful that everything was lost."
She also pointed out how her daughter, who had just gotten her driver's license earlier last month, maintained her poise and helped them out of the situation.
"My daughter kept her head during the blaze," she said. "I'm very proud of her. She means the world to me."