Six firefighters from the Fire & ergency Services Division aboard Logistics Base Barstow, Calif., were recognized recently for saving the life of a man pinned between two large military vehicles, Oct. 25, 2016.
Colonel Sekou Karega presented the Emergency and Medical Services Lifesaving Award to Capt. Johnny Torgeson, firefighters Luke Fletcher, Kevin Watson, and Zachary Zamora and paramedic Eric Keck during a ceremony at the offices of Security and Emergency Services. Paramedic Bradley Watson was unable to attend.
Karega made some brief remarks before the presentation ceremony to a room packed with firefighters, Aug. 1.
“As far as I’m concerned, all of you are heroes every day,” Karega said. “You lay your lives on the line every single day in order to protect people. You make a great contribution to this command and a great contribution to this community.”
The recognition arose from an Oct. 25, 2016, call when two 5-ton military trucks were being off-loaded at Fleet Support Division facilities aboard the Yermo Annex of MCLB Barstow.
“One vehicle was sitting on a ramp when hydraulic pressure on the brake lines was released, allowing the truck to roll back and hit the front bumper of another truck that had already been off-loaded,” explained Greg Kunkel, chief of emergency and medical services for Fire and Emergency Services.
“There was a lifting shackle projecting out from the front bumper of one vehicle and the rear bumper of the truck in front of it,” he continued, “and the victim got caught in the space between the two protrusions. That’s what prevented him from being pinched in half.”
When the team of firefighters led by Torgeson responded to the call, they began work immediately to treat the patient.
“The most immediate medical condition that needed attention was a tension pneumothorax caused by the left lung of the victim collapsing from the impact,” Torgeson said.
“When you rupture a lung the air is forced out into the space around the lung, keeping it from properly inflating,” he said, “plus the air pushes all of the other organs to one side, putting pressure on the other lung which would eventually cause that one to deflate, too.”
“(The victim) was conscious when we arrived and was able to tell me he had trouble breathing,” Fletcher said. That helped Fletcher determine the proper course of treatment.
“The paramedics inserted a large gauge needle through the left chest wall,” he said. “That allowed the trapped air to escape and relieve pressure on the other organs, which let the victim breathe easier.”
Kunkel said the team also administered medication to the man and helped control the internal bleeding from the rupture of his right kidney.
A San Bernardino County Sheriffs air ambulance was called in to rush the victim to the trauma center at Loma Linda University Hospital.
“It turned out he did indeed have a collapsed left lung. His right kidney had also been crushed, so that had to be removed as well,” Kunkel said.
“They saved this man’s life,” SES Director Danny Strand said. “If they hadn’t done what they did, if the chief hadn’t called in an airship, if they hadn’t put in a needle to release the pressure, if they hadn’t controlled his bleeding, if they hadn’t administered the right drugs, he would have died. They did everything exactly right.”
“I absolutely feel good about helping to save his life, but I know that there are any one of 50 other firefighters and paramedics with whom I work who would have done the same thing. I’m nothing special,” Fletcher insisted.
The entire team credited the continuous training they receive and the administration of the FES with preparing them to respond quickly.
“That’s why we train. So, when we respond to a call you can just work systematically,” Watson said. “You find one thing wrong and you fix it then move on to the next problem. I wouldn’t say we’ve had a lot of calls of this particular type of injury but we do handle a lot of trauma calls (from freeway traffic accidents) so this was just ‘another day at the office’ for us.”
“I feel great being part of a team that saved a life,” Watson added. “I have a family and if something like this were to happen to them, I would want someone like these guys to show up and fix them up too.”
“The firefighters on scene did an outstanding job,” Kunkel continued. “That was one of the best calls I’ve seen in quite a while where everyone really worked harmoniously together. That’s why I put that team in for the award. They define who we are and how (emergency medical services) is supposed to work.”