It was business as usual at Indianapolis International Airport (IND) when suddenly a woman ran into IND’s terminal screaming, “A car is on fire outside!”
TSA Officer Laurent Vergnaud quickly raced to help put out the car fire and make sure 9-1-1 was called.
“The first thing that came to my mind was to call 9-1-1,” Vergnaud recalled. “I ran quickly to Guest Services and told them to call while I grabbed a fire extinguisher to stop the fire. I didn’t know yet the extent of the fire. Fire can spread fast on a vehicle, so I knew I had to act quick.”
The 16-year TSA veteran said a United Airlines manager gave him the extinguisher, and when he got outside, he found smoke coming from a Ford Expedition parked along the curb.
“There was a lot of smoke coming out of the vehicle, especially from the front tire and under the engine,” said Vergnaud. “Apparently, that’s where the fire started. I also went around to check if any more fire spread and asked the owner to pop the hood to check inside, too. Everything was fine, and the fire was put out in a minute or so. The fire department and police arrived just after and took over from there.”
The fiancé of the woman who yelled for help owns the SUV and was dropping her off at the airport when the fire broke out. Vergnaud said the man was very thankful the fire didn’t cause more damage to his SUV and injure the couple and their dog.
“[Laurent] happened to be at the right place at the right time,” said Supervisory TSA Officer Malcolm Duenas. “I would definitely call him a hero. By his quick thinking and response, he prevented a situation that could have caused injuries and property damage, perhaps even a closure of the terminal. He also put himself at risk of injury. His actions prevented what could have been a catastrophe.”
Duenas quickly submitted a request to recognize Vergnaud with an On-The-Spot [financial] Award.
“I want him to know what he did displays our commitment to the public,” Duenas explained. “Submitting an On-The-Spot Award displays how much his actions are appreciated not just by me, but also by Indianapolis International Airport.”
Indiana Assistant Federal Security Director for Screening Kevin Bidwell said this type of event doesn’t occur every day, but he wasn’t surprised when he heard Vergnaud was involved.
“It is emblematic of the type of person and officer he is,” said Bidwell. “One minute he is going above and beyond assisting a passenger with his multilingual skills at the ticket counter, the next minute he is meeting a call to action for an emergency situation curbside. I am not thrilled he put his personal safety at risk, but his decisive actions made all the difference. He remained calm, cool, collected, made the appropriate communications, and immediately mitigated the situation.”
Vergnaud doesn’t consider himself a hero, saying, “I love to help people who are in need and will not hesitate if there’s an emergency situation as the one I experienced. In this case, being at the right place at the right time was pure coincidence. But by wearing the TSA uniform and being my duty to help, I didn’t think twice. Certainly not a hero. Just helping.”
When asked what this selfless act tells him about his IND team, Bidwell replied, “It’s all about the people, holding ourselves to a higher standard, being dedicated professionals, and demonstrating compassion in the pursuit of excellence for those we serve.”
By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs