Quick-thinking UPS driver saves houses from wildfire

The driver earned praise for his actions from the West Thurston Fire Authority’s captain.

  • Saturday, September 19, 2020 12:42pm
  • Northwest

By Jackson Gardner / The Chronicle (Centralia)

LITTLEROCK — A beloved Thurston County UPS driver is being called a hero after he made an impromptu stop on his route in the Littlerock area last week to assist households caught up in the Bordeaux fire.

Don Gagnon has been an adored figure by colleagues and citizens on his delivery route for some time, said West Thurston Fire Authority Captain Lanette Dyer.

“This is a guy that has been around for a long time, that knows everyone’s address, that knows everyone, always has a quick smile on his face, never has a bad day, never has anything negative to say about anything or anyone, just truly a positive, genuine person,” Dyer said of Gagnon.

Gagnon’s boss, Clint Robinson, shared a similar sentiment towards the 31-year veteran UPS delivery driver. Robinson, who has only been working out of Tumwater for four months since moving up from Northern California, said it didn’t take a fire for him to realize the kind of man Gagnon was.

“Don was definitely that one that walked in and I said ‘there’s my customer service UPS’er out there, taking the quintessential face of UPS,’” Robinson recalled from one of his early encounters with Gagnon. “That’s what you think, the guy in the brown uniform, walking up smiling and calling out ‘UPS!’”

But the community’s admiration for him was particularly apparent after Tuesday when he likely prevented additional houses from getting caught on fire, by West Thurston Fire Authority’s estimation.

Gagnon told The Chronicle he had finished his first six deliveries on his route in a housing development that only has one entrance when he first noticed the fire.

“I went to the last house, dropped the package, then saw the fire from the side of the house,” Gagnon said. “Then I said, “well, let me see if I can follow the flames, maybe turn on a sprinkler or something, and I went back there and the flames were at the 500-gallon propane tank.”

According to Dyer, the fire started after a transformer blew and winds immediately spread the fire. Due to the wind causing flames to jump, Gagnon didn’t think he would be able to drive his truck back up the road.

Gagnon said it all happened quickly, but he grabbed a hose and started spraying around the house and in the lawn, including the propane tank that he had to turn off.

“Then I went on to the next house, ran with the hose as much as I could from one neighbor to the other, and sprayed their (propane tank) and turned it off also.”

Gagnon said he spent about an hour helping houses prepare for the quickly spreading fire before the level 3 evacuation notice came in and he knew it was time to leave.

In order to get himself and his truck out of the area, Gagnon said he tied a towel around his head and doused himself with water to manage the heat and drove his truck through the smoke.

“When it was time to get out, you couldn’t see,” Gagnon said.

In order to drive the vehicle, Gagnon said he tried to use his steering wheel to gauge if his car went off the road and slowly drove out.

Gagnon knows first-hand the devastation of losing a house to a fire, he lost his own house in a wildfire in 2000. Additionally, Gagnon said his military background had him prepared in a way.

“Some people say, so what you have insurance, but that doesn’t replace the pictures and who you are.”

Dyer said that had the West Thurston Fire Authority not told people about what Gagnon did last week, no one would have known, because it certainly wouldn’t have been characteristic of Gagnon to boast about it.

“People always call the fire department or the police or whatever and they exclaim we’re heroes, but we’re paid to do that job … that’s part of the game we sign up for,” Dyer said. “But for someone like (Gagnon), he didn’t have to do that. Those are the heroes of the world.”

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