On Oct. 9, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Nigel P. Huebscher and his family were returning from a trip when they saw a burning home in Bonifay, Florida.

Years of Army training instantly kicked in for Huebscher, who ran towards the danger as his wife Devi called 911. In a matter of seconds, he helped two people escape the burning home before it was totally consumed by the fire.

Now Huebscher, the command chief warrant officer for 1st Aviation Brigade, has received the Soldier’s Medal for helping save the lives of those two people, according to an Army news story. The medal is the highest award a soldier can receive for heroism in non-combat situations and is the equivalent of the Distinguished Flying Cross.

“It was immediately clear what needed to be done, and I just happened to be the first person available to it,” Huebscher said when he received the Soldier’s Medal on Monday at Fort Novosel, Alabama.

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Huebscher wasted no time after he saw flames coming from the home on Oct. 2. He jumped a locked gate to get to the home, where an elderly woman who looked confused came to the door, the Army news story says. Huebscher helped her get away from the house and then went inside.

Soldier's Medal
Travis Cook (left), fire chief for the city of Bonifay, Fla., presents a token of appreciation to Chief Warrant Officer 5 Nigel P. Huebscher (right), 1st Aviation Brigade command chief warrant officer, for risking his life to save the lives of two of the town’s residents from a house fire on Oct. 9, 2022. (Kelly Morris/U.S. Army).

Once he was in the house, Huebscher found an elderly man sleeping in a bed. He woke the man and repeatedly explained the home was on fire, but the man appeared to not understand what was happening. Meanwhile, the smoke had become thick black, and the outside of the home had become fully enveloped by flames.

Huebscher led the elderly man to the door, but when he saw flames across the doorway, he turned to go back to his bedroom.

Outside, Florida Air National Guard Maj. Bradley J. Vaughn was now on the scene after his family had seen the fire. Vaughn was a senior air defense officer at the 601st Air Operation Center at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.

By this point, the blaze had worsened considerably and Devi Huebscher, who was on the phone with a 911 operator, yelled to Vaughn that her husband was inside the burning home.

Vaughn went toward the home, but the heat and flames were too intense for him to go inside. He also heard popping noises that sounded like ammunition exploding.

Suddenly, Huebscher shoved the elderly man through the flames and the two men escaped to the front yard. Seconds later, the house exploded.

Vaughn then helped the man get to a safe distance from the inferno.

Soldier's Medal
Ceremony attendees congratulate Chief Warrant Officer 5 Nigel P. Huebscher and wife Devi, after Huebscher received the Soldier’s Medal at Fort Novosel, Ala., Aug. 7, 2023. (Kelly Morris/U.S. Army).

The man was treated for burns. Both he and the woman whom Huebscher helped get out of the house survived.

“I think that whole event was a matter of seconds really,” Huebscher said in an interview for the Army’s news story. “Thirty seconds to a minute earlier and I’d never have seen the flames. Thirty seconds to a minute later and I’d never got out of the house. Timing was everything in this case.”

Travis Cook, the fire chief for the city of Bonifay, presented Huebscher with a token of appreciation on Monday, the Army news story says. Cook praised both Huebscher and Vaughn for their actions that day, which prevented the blaze from being fatal.

Army Maj. Gen. Michael C. McCurry, commander of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Novosel, described Huebscher during Monday’s award ceremony as a “hero that’s living among us today.”

“Two people are alive today because of his actions,” McCurry. “I’m so thankful that you’re part of our formation, and you truly are above the best.”

But Huebscher stressed that he was one of several people who responded to the emergency.

“This traumatic situation brought a group of complete random strangers together as a team,” Huebscher said. “This impromptu team all did what had to be done to help another complete random stranger, despite the danger to themselves and their safety. I am proud to have been a part of that team, and I am proud to be part of the Army team.”

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