NEW LISBON, Wis. - An air battle manager stationed at the Wisconsin Air National Guard's Volk Field potentially saved the lives of a New Lisbon, Wis., family Aug. 30 when he noticed smoke in the distance while driving to work.
"It didn't look like normal smoke from a fire pit, so I decided to drive up and check it out," said Capt. John McKenna, also a New Lisbon resident. "As I drove up to the house I saw smoke billowing out of the front and back of the garage."
McKenna immediately ran to the front door, ringing the doorbell and banging on the door to alert the people inside. He wasn't certain that anyone was inside the home, but he suspected that three cars in the driveway at approximately 6:40 a.m. meant the family was still asleep.
McKenna went back to his truck to call 911 when a county worker arrived on the scene. The two banged on doors and windows around the house in an attempt to wake the residents. When Maider Thao opened the front door they told her the attached garage was on fire.
As they entered the house, McKenna informed her husband Vang Thao, who had just woken up, of the situation. Vang went upstairs to get the couple's three children.
"At this time we had to start ducking down due to the smoke," McKenna said.
Police arrived on the scene with two New Lisbon Fire Department firemen shortly after everyone had exited the house. At this point, the garage was engulfed in flames and smoke filled the house.
New Lisbon Fire Chief Lynn Willard said the garage was a total loss, but firefighters kept the fire from spreading to the house. He also said no injuries were reported.
"If we had not been dispatched when we were, we may not have been able to save the structure," Willard said. "The fire was spreading very quickly."
Once fire and police officials were on the scene and he was satisfied the family was safe, McKenna went to work at Volk Field. He estimated he had been at the scene about 15 minutes.
"Anybody who drove by would have done the same thing," he said. "If I didn't happen to drive by at that particular time and call 911, there could have been a different outcome."