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From left, Capt. Daniel Enslen, Pfc. Andrew Lovato, Spc. Christopher Cafaro, Staff Sgt. Melvin Baez and Maj. Matthew Van Wagenen were among the soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment who helped two German employees escape a fire.
From left, Capt. Daniel Enslen, Pfc. Andrew Lovato, Spc. Christopher Cafaro, Staff Sgt. Melvin Baez and Maj. Matthew Van Wagenen were among the soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment who helped two German employees escape a fire. (U.S. Army)

When a camp heating system exploded Oct. 5 as two local national employees were removing fuel from it in at the training area in Hohenfels, Germany, most of the training unit had already left.

But fortunately for Konrad Graml and Heinrich Rödl, several soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment had remained behind to clean up the area before turning it back over to the Joint Multinational Training Center.

Even more fortunate for Graml and Rödl, employees of the U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels’ Directorate of Public Works, the soldiers had just come off weeks of training on things like treating civilians on the battlefield and mass casualties, according to Maj. Matthew Van Wagenen, the battalion’s executive officer.

The soldiers were in a nearby dining facility used during training exercises when the explosion occurred. They reacted quickly.

“It was a very large fire, very large explosion — about 50 feet in the air,” Van Wagenen said.

“We heard the explosion, and someone said: ‘That had to be the heater,’ ” added Spc. Christopher Cafaro. “A couple of guys grabbed fire extinguishers and two or three people started working on one guy, putting out the fire and treating him.

“The [heating system] was still on fire, and another guy came out totally in flames. People were spraying him with the fire extinguisher, and we got him to drop and roll.”

After extinguishing the flames and treating the victims for shock, two of the soldiers drove them in a military minivan to a waiting helicopter that evacuated them to burn centers, Van Wagenen said.

The two were taken to German hospitals where they remain in serious condition, according to the USAG Hohenfels DPW.

“Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I’m kind of surprised at how fast and how well everybody reacted,” said Pfc. Andrew Lovato. “It was professional, and no one second-guessed — they just reacted.”

“The soldiers did an outstanding job,” added Capt. Daniel Enslen, battalion logistics officer, who was one of the soldiers who drove the injured employees to the medical evacuation point.

“You expect this sort of thing to happen in Iraq, but not in the middle of Germany. They remained calm and kept the area safe by putting out the fire while taking care of the two workers.”

Because they were working in an isolated location, things could have gone much differently for Graml and Rödl.

“If we wouldn’t have been there, they may very well have died,” Van Wagenen said. “It was a very austere area of [the training area] called [Forward Operating Base] West. We just happened to be there breaking down camp while they were doing their maintenance.”

Most of the 19 soldiers from the unit that had been left behind to clean up the area helped in some way with the incident, and they have been recommended for awards, Van Wagenen said.

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