Two Grafenwöhr soldiers help rescue animals from fire
Stars and Stripes October 2, 2012
KULMAIN, Germany — When heavy flames and smoke appeared on the horizon of this small farm community Sunday, alarmed residents flocked to help.
Among them were a pair of American soldiers, each running from his house to discover the source of the flames — an engulfed hayloft that threatened an adjoining cattle barn. With the soldiers’ help, Kulmain residents moved more than 20 milk cows out of the barn with no personal injuries, according to witnesses.
“I’m very happy that the soldiers helped us,” said Monica Wörl, whose family owns the farm and who was present at the fire. “Very thankful.”
The soldiers, Spc. Bryan Valenzuela and Staff Sgt. Jim Smith, are both of the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade, based in nearby Grafenwöhr. Valenzuela, 21, who lives in a small collection of military homes in the town, said he was in his driveway when he spotted the smoke.
Arriving at the burning hayloft, he checked the barn to find another responder freeing the cattle from their restraints, he said. Wörl arrived soon after to help, and she recalled seeing Valenzuela helping move the cattle. The soldier said he first grabbed several calves closest to the hayloft, carrying them outside in multiple trips. Valenzuela then began unchaining cattle and shooing them away from the fire, both he and Wörl said.
“I think that adrenaline kicked in, and I started going in and out, getting cows out of there,” Valenzuela said.
From his private rental in town, Smith, 27, said he ran to the nearby fire department after seeing the flames. Finding the firemen on their way, Smith headed to the scene, he said, and immediately pitched in with Valenzuela, Wörl and other residents.
“Everybody just immediately hops in,” Smith said. “It was definitely a huge community [effort].”
A spokesman for the brigade said both soldiers will be recommended for awards, although battalion leaders had yet to determine at what level.
Of 22 cattle inside the barn, 21 were saved, Wörl said, and placed in an empty barn owned by a neighbor. The other had to be killed due to its injuries, she said. Several chickens and rabbits in the loft died in the fire, Wörl said.
Firefighters needed an hour to control the blaze and longer to extinguish hotspots, according to Ernst Braunreuther, head of the volunteer department.
The cause of the fire remains unclear. Tuesday morning, local firefighters swept still-smoldering debris and awaited a fire investigation team. Neither barn nor loft are salvageable, Wörl said.
The family farm was has been in business since 1913, Wörl said, run by her father and four brothers.
“We were very lucky,” Wörl said. “Because many people also helped.”