TSA Officer Vanessa Wieser was on her way home from work when she suddenly saw a plume of smoke in her Mesa, Arizona, neighborhood.
“My mother was a wildland fire dispatcher for 39 years with the U.S. Forest Service,” said Wieser, “and I thought to myself, ‘That didn’t look like good smoke,’ so I thought I better check it out.”
Wieser, a nearly 11-year TSA veteran at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), raced to the scene of the smoke and saw a huge fireball on the side of a house. She immediately called 911.
“As I got closer to the fire, I could see flames shooting out of a trash can under the eaves of the house,” she recalled. “It was 114 degrees outside, and it doesn’t take long in those conditions for a small fire to get out of control very quickly.”
Wieser then rushed to the front of the home and banged on the door to see if anyone was inside. She heard a barking dog. With the front door unlocked and cars in the driveway, Wieser was sure someone was home.
“I shouted into the house from the front door, ‘There’s a fire; you gotta get out,’ and tried to call the dog, who was sitting on the couch barking her head off, ‘C’mon, puppy, c’mon,’ but [the pet Chihuahua] just stayed on the couch barking and barking. It was not smoky in the house yet, so I ran in and picked her up.”
As she got the dog out safely, another person arrived on the scene. Wieser handed him the dog and ran down the hallway of the home shouting, “There’s a fire! Is there anyone in here?”
Reflecting on the rescue, she said, “I was not really worried about my safety. I made sure the scene was safe before I entered.”
Fortunately, no one else was inside, and Wieser said the homeowners were in shock and disbelief when they arrived and saw their house on fire and firefighters cutting holes in their roof. As they spoke with other neighbors, they pointed at Wieser and said, “This sweet neighbor saw and called and got Chica (their pet Chihuahua) out.”
Her situational awareness and quick thinking drew high praise from TSA PHX leadership.
“It is no surprise that Vanessa would go out of her way to help in a time of crisis,” said PHX Deputy Assistant Federal Security Director Natasha Marksberry. “She regularly goes out of her way to be a contributing member of the PHX workforce. She helps others whenever they are in need and is an active voice for our uniformed workforce! Vanessa has always been a team player who excels in anything she puts her mind to, and we are proud to have her as part of Team PHX!”
Wieser wasn’t looking for any kind of recognition, saying, “I just want to be a good person. I don’t feel like there are enough good people anymore. I really just try to live by the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
She has some advice for those of us who might find ourselves in a similar situation.
“Just stay calm and focused,” Wieser said. “I recommend having basic knowledge of how to help or evacuate in the event of a fire or any emergency. Just BREATHE and focus. The more you ‘slow down,’ the faster and more efficiently you will react. Just maintain domain awareness wherever you go and stay safe!”