FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (March 30, 2021) — While driving through Crocker, Mo., in the early morning hours of Jan. 23, Sgt. 1st Class Matt Mobley, noncommissioned officer in charge of range maintenance at the Combat Training Company, saw something in a gas station parking lot that caught his eye.
“I saw a car that had smoke coming out from underneath,” he said. “It was dark and I could see the smoke in my headlights.”
When he looked again, the front end of the vehicle burst into flames. He knew the situation was bad and turned around.
“I parked far away because the flames were at the gas station next to their big fuel tanks,” he said. “When I got up to the car, it was already engulfed in flames and I heard something. It was the individual inside trying to kick the windows out.”
Jason Wells, an off-duty firefighter who lives across the street from the gas station, was woken by the sound of a revving engine and went to help as well.
“I rushed up the driveway and heard the guy screaming from inside,” Wells said.
Despite the trapped man’s frantic efforts, he could not escape the burning vehicle.
“There was no way to pull the door lock up — he couldn’t get out, which was absolutely terrifying,” Mobley explained. “He was laying on his back, trying to kick the windows out, but he just didn’t have enough room to lay down in there — it was a small car.”
Mobley said he knew they needed to act fast and began looking for ways to help the trapped driver.
After successfully breaking a window, they pulled him from the burning vehicle.
“He was smoking (from the fire); his hair was singed and his whole car was in flames,” Mobley said.
The man experienced some smoke inhalation, according to Mobley, but was otherwise uninjured.
With the man safely out of the vehicle, Mobley then turned his attention to extinguishing the flames.
“I ran over to the other side of the gas tanks where there was a fire extinguisher station and grabbed a fire extinguisher to try to put the car out, but it was too far gone,” he said.
Describing the scene as “very, very chaotic,” Mobley said his unexpected experience that morning gave him a new appreciation for first responders.
“Making decisions in an austere environment, in conditions like that, is pretty phenomenal,” he said. “Those guys — the firefighters — don’t get enough credit. You don’t realize until it happens, that those guys do that every day.”
Crocker Fire Chief Mark Fancher said, in his mind, Mobley is a hero.
“If he had not stopped to help break the window and help firefighter Wells drag the person from the burning car, we would have most likely had a fatality that morning,” Fancher said.
Mobley, who is from Poplar Bluff, Mo., and has served in the Army for 18 years, found his actions quickly gained the attention of the local community via social media.
“I posted some videos on Facebook that morning, and I guess you could say it went viral,” he said. “A lot of people saw it and commented.”
One of those community members was State Rep. Bill Hardwick.
On March 5, Hardwick presented Mobley with a flag that was flown over the state Capitol building in Jefferson City, Mo., and a signed resolution of appreciation adopted by the Missouri House of Representatives on March 3.
According to Hardwick, Mobley’s actions are a perfect example of why members of the local community look up to the men and women who wear the uniform and serve their country.
“Sgt. 1st Class Mobley showed an incredible act of courage when he stopped to rescue a stranger in a dangerous situation,” Hardwick said. “Our community here in Pulaski County is proud of him.”
The resolution describes Mobley as “a remarkable gentleman who dutifully serves his country in the United States Army” whose “competence to react with sound judgement in an emergency situation helped save the life of the vehicle’s occupant.”
Mobley said everyone should take time to help others in need, and that he was simply at the right place at the right time.
“If it had been daylight, I don’t know if I would’ve even paid attention to it,” he said, adding that running toward the flames was a result of a mentality ingrained in him through his years of service with the Army.
“Run toward the sound of chaos,” he said. “I guess everybody in the military is taught that.”
About Fort Leonard Wood
Fort Leonard Wood is a thriving and prosperous installation that has evolved from a small basic training post more than 75 years ago to a premier Army Center of Excellence that trains more than 80,000 military and civilians each year.
Fort Leonard Wood is home to the U.S Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and three U.S. Army schools: the U.S. Army Engineer School; U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School; and the U.S. Army Military Police School. In addition to training engineer, CBRN and military police specialties for the Army, Fort Leonard Wood also provides gender-integrated in-processing and Basic Combat Training for new Soldiers.
Fort Leonard Wood also hosts and trains with the largest Marine Corps Detachment and Air Force Squadron on any Army installation as well as a large Navy construction detachment.
More information about Fort Leonard Wood is at: https://home.army.mil/wood/index.php/about/mission