Grass Fire Drama

The grass fire flames rose higher, radiating fierce heat to anyone within 40 yards. Smoke billowed across the road to where you couldn’t even see the other side. Two figures tangoed around each other, one very large, the other only up to his chin. A car sizzled, engulfed in the flames, and explosions punctuated the sound of the crackling fire. The larger man swung as the smaller one ducked under his arm and quickly moved back, keeping his hands up. For a moment, the potentially deadly dance came dangerously close to the flame, before the two spun away.

Although this sounds like a Bruckheimer film, this was real life and occurred last weekend on Boddecker Drive. For whatever bizarre Texas summertime reason, a car spun out into 12ft tall marsh grass on the side of the road and set the grass ablaze. Bystanders tried to pull the driver from the car, but he apparently refused to exit. Eventually the lumbering man got out, the bystanders retreated, and Galveston Police Department Sergeant Chris McNeil arrived on scene. Sgt. McNeil had been working the Park Board Security Detail at East Beach and went to check out the smoke rising suddenly to the jet blue sky.

While the drama unfolded unknown to those in the park, a Beach Patrol truck blocked the roadway and directed traffic back into the park. Park Board park staff closed the gate and opened the one on the west side to keep exiting traffic from danger. Police quickly dispatched backup for Sgt. McNeil and the Fire Department arrived to fight the growing brush fire.

Suddenly, McNeil made his move and somehow maneuvered the disoriented man to the ground. Somehow the man broke free and they were back up again, circling each other in the smoke and intense heat. Finally, McNeil grappled the man down again and, with the help of two bystanders, held the man down, cuffed him, and were able to move him away from the quickly spreading blaze to the safe zone that had been established. There his police backup and EMS were able to move in, assist, and provide aid to the agitated man

This obviously could have gone a lot of different ways, mostly bad. Sgt. McNeil confidently and unselfishly moved into a complex, unknown, and dangerous situation alone to save someone who was very strong, large, and combative. He was able to restrain the man without hurting him or getting hurt in the process. The Galveston Fire Department’s quick response saved acres of wetlands, countless flora and fauna, property, and potentially, human lives. The Park Board Park Manager Justin Painter and his staff were able to quickly adapt their operations to protect the guests from driving into a volatile situation. And then, once it was handled, everyone went right back to work as if nothing had happened.

The running joke/not joke is “the heat brings craziness.” This time of year, more than ever, I’m glad we have people like Sgt McNeil, who run towards danger to protect those in need.