Incendiary Incident Inspires Heroism

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ryan Whitney
  • Nellis Public Affairs
"Hero" -- a word many people throw around as an everyday compliment, but something few can actually claim to be.

After saving an individual's life earlier this year, Senior Airman Steven Darling, a 99th Civil Engineer firefighter, has earned the right to be called a true hero.

After returning to Las Vegas from his hometown of Orange County, Calif., Airman Darling received a call from a friend inviting him to a get together at the Apex, a desert recreation area located north of Nellis AFB.

"I just planned on going by and saying hello to my friend, because it was kind of late and I had to work the next day, so I stopped by and said hello to everyone," Airman Darling said.

The gathering consisted of a bunch of people the young Airman didn't really know sitting around a huge bonfire; nothing that would persuade him to stick around for very long.

Just as he was about to leave, things took a turn for the worse.

"I was by the bonfire saying goodbye to my friend before I left, when someone tripped into the fire, and all I saw was embers fly into the air," Airman Darling said.

The individual who fell into the fire had dropped his shoe and then stepped on a broken bottle, causing severe lacerations to his foot, which made him lose balance and fall into the fire.

After Airman Darling saw him plunge face-first into a raging fire, he didn't have to think about his actions, he knew what to do; after all, he is an Air Force firefighter who has been highly trained for situations like these.

Without hesitation, Airman Darling reached into the fire and pulled the young man out by the back of his neck.

The rescued young man suffered third-degree burns from his fingertips all the way to his shoulder and chest, as well as deep lacerations to his foot where the glass pierced him.

"If I hadn't been there, I don't know what would have happened, because everyone else was just sitting there watching this man suffer, not making any attempts to aid him," the Airman stated.

After pulling the man from the fire, Airman Darling assessed and treated his wounds to the best of his ability. The individual went into shock and started scratching his arms, which were charred from the fire.

At this point there was nothing more Airman Darling could do to aid the injured individual, and with no one else trying to assist him, the Airman loaded the burnt man into his truck and proceeded to transport him to the Mike O'Callaghan Federal Hospital at Nellis AFB.

"I loaded him into my truck to take him to the hospital because I could tell how severe his injuries were, and he screamed the whole way there. So I did the best that I could to keep him calm and comfortable," said Airman Darling.

When Airman Darling arrived at the hospital, medical personnel took control of the situation, providing the man with medication to help ease his pain, and then contacted the local burn unit since Nellis does not have burn facilities.

"I went down to the University Medical Center to check on his progress the next day, and visited with [the burn victim] a couple times during the three weeks he received treatment there," Airman Darling said. "I was just glad he was able to make a good recovery and that I was able to help."

In response to his actions, the American Red Cross chose to present Airman Darling with the Heroes of Southern Nevada Award: Military category, in an award ceremony Oct. 8 at the Rio Hotel and Casino.

Airman Darling's award was presented by Donald Shalmy, the president of Nevada Power Company.

"While others stood by, Airman Darling pulled the injured man out of the fire, assessed and treated his wounds, and personally transported the individual to the emergency room at Nellis Air Force Base," said Mr. Shalmy. "His actions went above and beyond the call of duty by all measure; his commitment and concern for the young man undoubtedly saved his life."

"It's humbling to be called a hero, but I didn't become a firefighter to be called a hero. I joined the Air Force as a firefighter because I enjoy helping people, and that is what the Air Force trained me to do--help people," said Airman Darling.