By Air Force Capt. Michaela Judge
315th Airlift Wing
JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C., March 6, 2015 – The responsibility and moral character that come with wearing the uniform doesn't stop when a reservist signs out at the end of each unit training assembly. It's a constant professional mindset.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Landis, 315th Maintenance Squadron aircraft maintenance mechanic, knows this all too well.
During his commute home from a recent drill weekend, Landis faced a very real call to action that would change the course of what should have been a familiar and uneventful drive through St. Stephens, South Carolina.
"As I was going through the main area of town, I looked up at the gas prices to see what they were. Just catty-corner from the sign was this little red house with a white garage," Landis said.
At a glance, he saw flames through the front garage door next to the red house, and immediately thought someone had lit a charcoal grill with too much lighter fluid.
As his car passed the house, Landis said, something in him told him to look back. And this time he saw something different: a flame was peeking over the roof of the garage.
Knowing the flames of a grill wouldn't get that high, he made the quick decision to go back and investigate.
"When I got to the house, I first ran to the garage and looked inside. The back left room was fully engulfed in flames,” he said. “I looked for a second -- the best I could without going in -- to make sure there wasn't anyone inside. When I didn't see anyone, I ran to the house beating on every window I passed."
Alerting the Family
Landis said he ran up on the porch and opened the door of the house. Rushing inside, he saw a woman in the kitchen, with her two children close by on a couch playing games.
"They all looked completely scared that I just came into their house,” he recalled. “I yelled, ‘Ma'am, do you know that your garage is on fire?’ And when she ran past me and saw the fire for herself, she came back completely hysterical, and picked up her phone, I think to call her husband."
While she was on the phone, Landis said, he continued yelling for the family to get out of the house. He grabbed the children’s hands, and they rushed to the front yard, where he could safely call 911.
"As soon as I got an operator, a St. Stephen's police officer was driving by,” he said. “So I dropped my phone and flagged him down. [The police officer] stopped to get out and called dispatch for the fire department."
During the wait for the fire department, the garage and one of the family's cars became fully engulfed in flames, with the fire reaching about 40 feet high, Landis said.
"All of a sudden,” he added, “the power line burns in half and falls to the ground and starts popping and flashing, as it’s shorting out as it burns. The power line continued to do this for the rest of the time that I was there."
The destruction and danger of the fire didn't stop there, though.
"When the power line fell, the telephone-pole side of the power line fell on [a] pickup truck,” he said. “The heat from the garage fire and the power line together caused the truck to burst into flames, [causing] the tires to start exploding."
Fire Continues to Spread
At that point, the garage’s roof and shingles had caught fire, the flame height had doubled, and the fire had spread to the trees beside the garage. With the leaves and branches starting to rain down in flames, Landis said, it caused the fire to run toward the house and caught the house's wood siding on fire.
The fire engine arrived and the team had to jump into action immediately. Though he could have taken a step back, Landis said, he saw another need for help jumped in.
"[The firefighters] instantly turned on the truck's pump and grabbed the fire hose and ran it down the driveway to stop the house from catching on fire,” he said. “While they were doing that, it left only one firefighter to get the hoses out of the truck and hook up to the fire hydrant 100 feet away. So the officer and I grabbed the large hose and dragged it to the fire hydrant."
Doing the Right Thing
By taking a moment to think and to check back on the house, Landis was able to help the family escape from the house and to aid in minimizing the damage to their home.
"I don't know if it took moral courage,” he said. “[It was] just about turning around and making sure that the family was aware of the situation and to make sure that they were able to get to a safe place.”
His actions that day simply mirrored what he's learned as a military member, he said: doing the right thing at all times, not matter what.
"If you see something wrong or not being done correctly, it's your job as a [noncommissioned officer] to correct the situation," he added.
Landis's work ethic is evident in his day-to-day job as a reservist. His flight chief called him “an outstanding airman who exemplifies what the Air Force core values are.”
“He has a strong leadership mind and is always leaning forward with ideas for growing the airmen who work for him,” said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Ronald Johnson, 315th Maintenance flight chief.
Recognition From Harlem Globetrotters
The actions that Landis took that day also earned praise from outside his team. Harlem Globetrotters basketball player Zeus McClurkin recognized Landis as the team's Hometown Hero during a March 3 visit here.
"It was an amazing opportunity to meet Sergeant Landis," McClurkin said. “He's a real hero and embodies what we have been trying to capture with our Hometown Heroes initiative. He saved a family's life, and he's a part of our nation's military. It's just our chance to give back to these people who have sacrificed so much for us over the years, and it's really the least we can do."
Landis will also be recognized during the Globetrotters’ March 10 game at the Charleston Coliseum.