A Fi­nal Trib­ute to Fire­fighter’s Pas­sion for Duty

The Washington Post Sunday - - Metro - By Maria Glod and Theresa Var­gas

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.

BY TRACY A. WOOD­WARD — THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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.

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