This article was originally published on March 10, 2020, by the U.S. Army.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma Army National Guardsman Sgt. Darren Watkins, a Soldier with the 2120th Engineer Battalion, 90th Troop Command, Oklahoma Army National Guard, exhibited the Army Values when he selflessly saved the life of an elderly woman and her four dogs from a house fire in Wagoner County, Feb. 29.
Watkins, who is a sheriff’s deputy with Wagoner County, began his shift on the evening of Feb. 28 after a daddy-daughter dance with his youngest child. His shift was like most others; he answered routine calls, filled out paperwork and performed other typical duties. He had no idea by sunrise he would be a hero.
Toward the end of his shift, at approximately 4 a.m., Watkins was dispatched to a fire in a vacant house. After arriving, Watkins quickly realized the main threat was actually the neighboring house, which was also ablaze and occupied by an elderly widow.
“I knew she was in there, and I knew she needed to get out,” Watkins said. “I really wasn’t thinking of anything else.”
He quickly entered the home and located the woman. After attempting to collect photos of her family and other belongings, Watkins began leading her toward the safest exit. She then tried to get to her vehicle through the garage, where the fire was the most intense.
“I had to hold the door closed pull her away from the door leading to the garage,” Watkins said. “The firefighters later said if she would have opened that door the fire in the garage would have flashed into the living room and possibly burned both of us.”
Still concerned about her dogs, Watkins assured the woman they needed to get to a safer location. He then firmly wrapped his arms around the woman and steered her toward the safest exit. Watkins, the woman and her four dogs made it out of the burning house, just in time.
“As we walked a safe distance away, we heard the garage explode behind us,” Watkins said.
Despite having minimal fire safety training, Watkins, whose father is a firefighter, knew he needed to protect those inside even though he might face a personal injury. He selflessly chose to exhibit personal courage and entered the home to save the woman.
“I have had some crazy calls in the past, but this was probably the craziest with the best outcome,” Watkins said. “She did lose her house, but we were able to get her out of the residence with her dogs.”
Katie McCarthy is the managing editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. Her career in journalism began at the Columbus (Georgia) Ledger-Enquirer in 2008, where she learned to navigate the newsroom as a features reporter, copy editor, page designer, and online producer; prior to joining Coffee or Die, she worked for Outdoor Sportsman Group as an editor for Guns & Ammo magazine and their Special Interest Publications division. Katie currently lives in Indiana with her husband and two daughters.
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