Saving People Is His Job: Lt. Mike Mishler Excels in Rescue Leadership

May 2023
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In his 18 years of service with Prince William County Fire and Rescue, Lt. Mike Mishler has yet to come across a typical call. Every emergency is unique, he says, requiring quick thinking and a strong team.

Mishler’s specialty lies in technical and water rescue. He’s in charge of his department’s special operations training division and works under the Virginia Department of Emergency Management on developing water rescue efforts across the commonwealth.

“We train for a certain number of scenarios, but every scenario is going to be a little bit different,” he says. “I really enjoy the challenge of getting the team together and coming up with a solution that’s going to work for everybody and have the best outcome for the patient.”

Mike Mishler in full fire and rescue gear

Take, for instance, a recent motor vehicle accident that Mishler remembers as the most difficult call of his career. Two people were trapped in a car that had crashed into the back of a semi-truck, becoming wedged underneath the heavy vehicle.

“When we got there, we thought for sure that this might be a recovery – that the worst had happened,” Mishler says.

Because of how the people in the car were trapped, the standard operating procedure wasn’t going to apply. After consulting with his crewmembers, Mishler decided to call for extra help. They were saved through the combined efforts of Mishler’s crew, Fairfax County emergency workers, an additional rescue company, and private and public resources.

“I’m very happy to say both of those patients walked out of the hospital – walked out of the hospital – two weeks later,” Mishler says with emphasis. “Very satisfying.”

Situations with no playbook drew Mishler to the world of technical rescue. “You really have to use your brain to try to figure out how to get someone out of a bad situation,” he says.

Having teammates with diverse, yet complementary, backgrounds is also essential. Mishler’s crew has been comprised of former electricians, construction workers, engineers and Coast Guard rescue swimmers.

“You try to build that team around you and, boy, there’s not much that we can’t handle,” Mishler says.

While Prince William residents may rest well knowing Mishler and company are on call, the lieutenant has some general safety tips to share:

  • Have a plan with your family on what to do during inclement weather or if cell service goes down.
  • If there’s a risk of a power outage, charge your devices ahead of time and only use them in an emergency.
  • Don’t run generators indoors. Instead, keep them outside of the house and at a safe distance.
  • Have plenty of flashlights and batteries on hand.
  • Do not attempt to drive through flooded roadways, no matter how shallow it may look.

“You might be driving onto a road that you think only has six inches of water,” Mishler cautions, “but that road might be washed out 10 feet in front of you and you’re going to fall into a big ditch in your car, which poses a big problem.”

Mishler greets each day on the job with enthusiasm; yet, he also has grand plans for life after his career as a first responder. Once he reaches retirement, he plans to continue working on his own business.

He’s the owner of a hunting and fly-fishing outfitter, and during his time off, he can be found waterfowl hunting or out on a raft, guiding fishermen down the Rappahannock River. “That’s what I’m building for,” he says. “It’s my ‘retirement job.’”

Mishler says having a hobby outside of his job is critical to maintaining his mental health.

“It really allows me to destress because it’s just so relaxing,” he says. “Being on a river in a raft just fishing – no motor, no noise. It’s really easy to take in nature, have some fellowship with your friends and just decompress from a week’s worth of work.”