A Final Tribute to Firefighter’s Passion for Duty
Hundreds of firefighters stood in silence and saluted.
They had gathered to honor a rookie Prince William County firefighter who died Monday as he searched a burning house to make sure no one was trapped inside.
The family in that Woodbridge home had escaped, but Kyle R. Wilson, 24, and his fellow firefighters did not know that. When the blaze, fueled by fierce winds, suddenly intensified, he was trapped.
Wilson was the first Prince William firefighter to die in the line of duty in the department’s 41- year history.
Family members, friends and colleagues gathered yesterday at Nissan Pavilion to remember Wilson as a dedicated firefighter and a loving son and brother who made everyone smile with silly dancing and jokes.
“ I can only hope that I find something to be as passionate about as Kyle was about firefighting,” said his sister, Kelli Wilson. “ He passed away doing what he loved, and he will always be my hero.”
Officials still do not know what sparked the blaze that gutted the home on Marsh Overlook Drive. But in a preliminary review of the incident released this week, officials offered a chilling account of a fire that turned deadly within moments.
According to the report, the firefighters were called to the house at 6: 03 a. m. Wilson’s crew, No. 512 from
the Occoquan-Woodbridge- Lorton ( OWL) Station 12, arrived six minutes later. Flames were making their way up the side and the back of the home.
Vehicles were still in the driveway and the garage, officials said, leading firefighters to believe the family of seven might still be inside.
Wilson and Lt. Jason Reese went to the second floor. At first, there was little smoke, and they could see clearly.
The two were looking in the master bedroom when the door slammed shut, according to the report. They opened it to continue their search on that floor and were met by drastically different conditions. Visibility was zero, and the heat was extraordinarily intense. They tried to get out immediately. The fire was unrelenting. The roof and second- floor ceiling collapsed. Reese fell down the stairs, and Wilson was forced to head in a different direction.
It was 6: 15 a. m. Wilson pushed his emergency button — his radio call for help.
Officials said Reese and other firefighters tried to get to him, but they couldn’t. Reese suffered second- degree burns on both ears and one finger trying to reach him.
“ The initial reports demonstrate that Fire and Rescue crews were following procedure by working in pairs and maintaining physical contact until the catastrophic fire event forcibly separated them,” reads the report. “ The severe wind conditions also had an effect on the intensity and rapid spread of the fire.”
Officials said it will take many months to complete the investigation and issue a final report.
Prince William Department of Fire and Rescue Chief Mary Beth Michos told mourners, many of them in their firefighters’ uniforms from across the area, “ Kyle performed like a seasoned firefighter. He did what he was taught, and he did it bravely.”
She said the wind and sudden surge in the fire prevented fellow firefighters from saving Wilson, despite their efforts.
“ Despite all the things that you did right, the circumstances were just against us,” she said.
Wilson, who lived in Manassas with his brother, Chris, was born in Olney and grew up in Prince William County. He graduated from C. D. Hylton High School in 2000 and received a degree in athletic training from George Mason University.
Yesterday, Battalion Chief Timmy Keen recalled the first time he met Wilson. “ At that recruit’s breakfast, he greeted me with this smile that was unbelievable,” Keen said. “ Going to recruit school, he fell in love with the job.” He had been a member of the department since January 2006.
One way firefighters cope with their stress, Keen said, is through humor, and Wilson quickly learned to banter. He recalled the recruit teasing another man about his passion for NASCAR. “ He’d say, ‘ You’re in love with Dale Earnhardt Jr.,’ ” Keen said. “ He could dish it out with the best of them.”
An online guest book, set up on the county’s Web site, held more than 60 pages of messages just a few days after Wilson died. From across the nation, firefighters offered condolences. Then there were the local messages. A coworker of his mother recalled how happy she was when her son got the county job.
One message simply read: “ What do we say to a young man who sacrifices his life attempting to save others? Words are not ade-
quate.” A fund in Wilson’s name has been set up for his family. Officials said checks made out to the Kyle Wilson Fund can be sent to the Prince William Professional Fire Fighters, 5521 Mapledale Plaza, Dale City, Va. 22193.
Kyle R. Wilson, 24, the first firefighter to die in the Prince William department’s 41-year history, is saluted by members of his station. “He passed away doing what he loved,” said Kelli Wilson, the firefighter’s sister.