STILLWATER, Okla. — Troy Choplin says he was just doing his job, when he realized a grass fire was moving in on a Stillwater home and later that there was someone inside.
Choplin, the deputy director for Payne County Emergency Management, was the first to arrive for a grass fire call Tuesday afternoon. When the call went out there was no mention of a house, but when he got there things quickly changed.
He says his first thought was “OK it’s a little bit bigger than what they said.” But armed with just a leaf blower, he jumped into action.
“Normally you see a fireman with water and a hose fighting fires, that is the most productive way of doing it, yes, by far, but you can fight fires with a leaf blower especially if your conditions are right,” he says explaining his seemingly unorthodox choice in fire fighting equipment. He says Emergency Management often has leaf blowers on hand to clear glass off roadways after accidents or make fire lines in the leaves for fires in wooded areas.
He says the winds were pushing the fire directly toward the house.
“My only line of defense for that house was, yes, jump out grab the leaf blower and put on some bunker gear and lets try to keep it off the house,” he says, with his 25 years of volunteer firefighter experience kicking in.
It wasn’t until later that he spoke to a woman who had evacuated the home, that her adult son, who has schizophrenia, was inside refusing to leave.
“The outcome could have been a whole lot different. I really believe that,” he says looking back. “When everything caught up with me after the fact... the gravity of what happened finally hit me. It was a feeling of wow, that really happened. What would have happened if I hadn’t been there?”
Choplin says they are trained to protect lives and property but this call will change how he responds in the future. He says he doesn’t always turn on his lights or speed for grass fire calls but now he won’t ever take that for chance.
“Not a huge amount gets to you once you’ve been on a lot of stuff like that,” he says reflecting on past calls where people have died. “I can’t imagine you having to leave your child in the house because they won’t come out and he’s larger than her... and there’s no way she could have gotten him out.”
Choplin said at 47, he is a first time father, with a two-month-old baby at home.
“I can’t imagine leaving my child behind,” he say, shaking his head. “You get those bad things that happen and you get the good things... and this time it was a good one.”
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