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Tyndall Airmen first to respond to local house fire

Tyndall AFB welcome sign

Pictured is the welcome sign of Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Aug. 23, 2021. Tyndall’s mission is to develop resourceful and resilient Airmen trained to project unrivaled combat airpower on behalf of the United States of America while also upholding the proud Checkertail combat heritage and inspiring airpower projection in future generations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Magen M. Reeves)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Three Airmen assigned to Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, were the first to notice and respond to a house fire in Panama City, Florida, Aug. 11.

Airmen 1st Class Marissa Paris and Jalen Brown were visiting the home of Staff Sgt. Trevaunn Branham, when they noticed smoke rising from the neighbor’s home. They originally thought it was a regular backyard fire before they noticed smoke coming from multiple places and called 911.

“I was thinking of possible reasons why it could be doing that, but nothing seemed right,” said Brown, 81st Air Control Squadron weapons director. “The smoke was getting progressively worse, so I immediately started banging on the doors and windows just in case someone was inside.”

Neighbors informed the Airmen the resident was bed-ridden and in the home. Branham, who was dressed in flip-flops, board shorts and a t-shirt, quickly changed into his boots and fire-resistant military uniform, grabbed his medical bag and gas mask and ran over to the house with Paris and Brown to attempt to gain access.

“I put my gas mask on and tried to gain access into the house,” said Branham, 325th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron operational medicine noncommissioned officer in charge. “We attempted to gain access through the front door, side door and back door, but none of them would budge and the fire was covering the window curtains.”

 At that point, breathing became too difficult for Brown and Paris who retreated to the street and focused on maintaining crowd control while Branham continued to attempt to get into the house.

According to the city of Panama City, the Panama City Fire Department arrived to the scene in less than three minutes. Once on scene, Branham joined his friends to make way for the firefighters but even they could not get into the house in enough time to save the occupant.

“There was no way Branham would have been able to get that person out with how quickly that fire spread,” said Jim Stafford, Bureau of Fire, Arson and Explosives Investigations, Division of Investigative and Forensic Services law enforcement detective.

“I’m sorry for the family,” said Branham. “I wish I could have gotten in there before it was too late. I’m a medic and saving lives, it’s almost an obligation. We had hoped we could get the occupant out and I had the basic equipment so it was worth the attempt.”

Although there was a fatality, Stafford said he was very impressed by the actions of the three Airmen.

“In my experience, most people in these situations would call 911 and that would be the extent of it,” said Stafford. “They went up to the house and had enough foresight to grab the means to breath and try to gain entry. Most people wouldn’t think like that. They were confident in what they were saying and they were calm under the pressure, and that’s very important when arriving on scene. Information is paramount for firefighters and the Airmen gave quick responses and concise information so the firefighters didn’t go in to the situation blind.”

“The Airmen were critical in helping the fire department get the fire under control as quickly as they did and the family of the victim will be able to have a body to lay to rest because of the actions of those Airmen,” Stafford continued.

Stafford, a retired military working dog handler himself, praised the Airmen’s quick actions and communication for the fire departments ability to get the fire under control quickly.

“These Airmen went leaps and bounds above,” said Stafford. “Having Tyndall and the people on it around; they are an asset…and it’s a very good thing.”