Weather Airman saves family from house fire

Belleville, Illinois -- According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were 1,298,000 fires reported in the United States in 2014. These fires caused 3,275 civilian deaths, 15,775 civilian injuries and $11.6 billion in property damage.

A small rural home outside of Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, will be added to the tallies made for 2016, but thanks to U.S. Air Force Master Sgt Timothy Yablonsky, 15th Weather Squadron Standards and Evaluations NCO in charge, its residents won't.

Yablonsky was headed back to the base with his 3-year old son after a medical appointment. His intentions were to drop him off at the base child development center and return to work. But his plans screeched to halt when he spotted heavy smoke coming from an old bungalow-style home along his route.

The closer he got, the worse it looked.

"I saw raging flames engulfing the back left corner of the house," Yablonsky said. "Outside I saw a man talking on his cell phone and a woman watching from the sidewalk, but I did not see anyone that was distressed."

The front door of the home was closed and there were no emergency responders in sight, so he figured either no one was home or the residents weren't aware of the situation. He pulled over and asked a pedestrian to watch his son.

"I ran up to the house and started shouting and banging on the door, but there was no answer" Yablonsky said. "Someone yelled at me to break the door down. I tried kicking it in to no effect and I was about to try hit it with my shoulder when the door opened."

He entered the living room, where he saw two ladies and a young man, and told them the house was on fire and they needed to get out. The house was quickly filling with smoke.

Yablonsky, joined by a civilian, helped the family out of the home and cleared what parts of the home they could.

"They told us there was someone else living in the basement apartment which you could access from the backyard," Yablonsky said. "We headed to the back of the house to make sure they got out too, but she had already escaped and met us halfway."

That was when emergency responders began to arrive.

"This series of events shows the strength of his character," said Lt. Col. Danielle Budzko, 15th OWS commander. "He didn't hesitate to take action, potentially putting himself at risk, to assist others in need.  He has already proven himself to be an invaluable member supporting the 15 OWS mission, and this just further shows what an amazing individual he is on and off duty."

As a husband and father of two, Yablonksy had a lot to lose by putting himself in danger, but his family was proud of him and so was the community who recognized him at a recent Belleville city council meeting.

"I would much rather it not have happened and the family not have to had endured this event, but I'm glad I was able to help them," Yablonsky said. "I'm proud of myself for stopping and doing the right thing to help people."

The 15th OWS is a geographically separated unit of the 557th Weather Wing at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.