San Francisco screening officer prevents huge fire, possible airport shutdown

Thursday, October 21, 2021
Car trunk fire at SFO photo

It was an unexpected start to the day at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) for Robert Reclus.

Emergency crews photo
Emergency crews on the scene of the car fire at San Francisco International Airport. (Photo by Russel Mackey)

Reclus is a screening officer for Covenant Aviation Security, TSA’s security partner at SFO. Around 5:30 a.m., he was on break enjoying a cup of coffee when he immediately turned firefighter.

He noticed a young man jump out of a Honda Civic parked along a curb and run to the trunk. When the man opened the trunk, a big plume of smoke poured out. The trunk and its contents were on fire.

As soon as he saw the smoke, Reclus raced into the terminal and grabbed a fire extinguisher.

“I gave it to the male driver who asked how to use it,” Reclus recalled. “I explained that he needed to pull the fire extinguisher’s pin, point it at the base of the fire and use a sweeping motion to put out the flames.”

Then, Reclus ran back inside to grab a second extinguisher and sprayed the top of the car’s hybrid battery pack that was on fire. At the same time, he was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher to call the fire department to the scene.

As he raced into action, Reclus admitted he experienced a sense of fear.

“The sense of fear was the car blowing up and it becoming an out-of-control situation or possibly hurting others,” he noted.

Officer Reclus photo
San Francisco International Airport Security Screening Officer Robert Reclus, who quickly doused a car fire, prevented a potentially dangerous situation. (Photo by Jasmine Navarro)

Reclus said the man was waiting for his parents to arrive and was shocked to see the smoke coming from the vehicle. Reclus was more than happy to help … even during break time.

“I didn’t mind leaving my break and offering assistance to a person in need,” he said. “It’s the way I was raised.”

Reclus admits the outcome would have been totally different had he not stepped in to help.

“The car would have been fully engulfed in flames,” he said, “and the whole area would have been shut down for hours, not to mention the damage to the building with the enormous amount of heat the fire would have produced.”

Similar to the training TSA employees receive, Reclus said Covenant Aviation Security (CAS) taught him to be vigilant of his surroundings at all times.

“Robert demonstrated active engagement by seeing a danger and taking the initiative to resolve what could have turned into a much more dangerous event,” said San Francisco TSA Assistant Federal Security Director-Screening Kevin Sprouse. “His actions are a hallmark of leadership and consistent with TSA core values (integrity, respect, commitment).”

Reclus wasn’t looking for any recognition but appreciates the response he received.

“I am very humbled and appreciative of the amount of kind words and actions from CAS, TSA and the airport,” he said. “I did what I thought was the right thing to do.”