Team Lajes responds to truck fire, saves lives
Silva, a fuels specialist and a 31-year veteran of Lajes Field, was driving a C-300 refueling vehicle May 25, when suddenly the truck began smoking and, shortly thereafter, was engulfed in flames.

LAJES FIELD, Azores -- When Helder Silva first smelled the smoke, he didn't think that his fuel truck was on fire.

"I smelled the smoke and thought someone was burning something," he said through an interpreter.

Silva, a fuels specialist and a 31-year veteran of Lajes Field, was driving a C-300 refueling vehicle May 25, when suddenly the truck began smoking and, shortly thereafter, was engulfed in flames.

"I saw smoke coming from the dashboard, got out, chalked the truck tires, grabbed my gear and alerted approaching vehicles," said Silva.

After noticing smoke, Silva radioed for a mechanic's assistance. Seconds later, the situation was nearly out of control and because the blaze was too large to battle with the truck's fire extinguisher, calling for the fire department was the only option left.

Team Lajes first responders, both American and Portuguese, were on scene so quickly that the tires on the refueling vehicle hadn't even melted by the time the blaze was extinguished.

The truck was damaged beyond repair, but that was the extent of the damage.

Silva's quick reactions saved lives, said Lt. Col. Scott Hopper, 65th Logistics Readiness Squadron commander.

"This was an extremely dangerous situation," Hopper said. "Helder had a full truck on his way to fill the AAFES Service Station fuel tanks. Had he not notified first responders so quickly, we would have been looking at a situation with severe damage to equipment and facilities; not to mention loss of life."

Hopper noted that a fuel truck fire is not an incident that is typically rehearsed or practiced.

"No one hands you a card during an exercise saying, 'your truck is on fire,'" he said. "(Silva) was the guy on the scene. He had to use his instincts and good judgment to get him through this. He relied on training and did his job."

Both Silva and Hopper were quick to note the role that teamwork played in turning a very dangerous situation into one resolved without any injuries or further damage.

"Our Airmen here at Lajes, both American and Portugeuse, are the epitome of a team. Teamwork, training and quick thinking were key to saving lives," said Hopper.

Silva, who cannot recall much after the arrival of first responders, said the safety of others was his biggest worry during the incident.

"My concern was to remove all cars and people from the area," he said.

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