NCO lends helping hand in major automobile accident

  • Published
  • By G. A. Volb
  • HQ AFWA Public Affairs
The forced mashing of metal brought Lind back to reality; once gazing out the window of his car -- in his only little world -- he looked up toward the traffic light in front of him to see a dump truck pushing a Jeep Cherokee down the road sideways.

When the back end of the dump truck hit a curb, it rolled and hit a power transformer - the truck crushed the front of the Jeep.

For Senior Master Sgt. Clark Lind, superintendent of the operational requirements division for the Air Force Weather Agency here, rush-hour traffic that June afternoon brought on a whole new challenge, that of lending a helping hand following a major automobile accident.

"I ran up to the truck and saw the driver through the windshield, he was struggling to climb out" said Lind. "I could see fuel pouring out of the engine and could hear the electrical lines crackling in the background from the transformer. Once the driver was able to get up, we pulled him out and down from the truck."

The sergeant said the driver was in a state of shock, but relatively unharmed physically. "He couldn't understand why I had such a sense of urgency," said Lind, originally from Santa Clarita, Calif., "that's until he saw I was pointing at the fuel leak."

While one commuter called 911 and many more pressed on with their daily lives, circumnavigating the accident scene, Lind made his way to the Jeep to check on the passengers.

"The passenger had been pushed into the back seat," said Lind. "She was crumpled over with an obvious head wound. Since I could hear sirens in the distance, I went to the intersection to direct traffic so medics could get to the injured woman. I didn't want to take a chance and move her given the severity of the injuries ... I thought I might make them worse.

Capt. Rolly Yost, Sarpy County Sheriff's Dept. Patrol Division commander, agreed. "The most important thing to remember is not to move the patient unnecessarily," he said. "In the absence of a fire starting in one of the vehicles, for the most part, don't try to move the injured to a more comfortable position. Spinal injuries may occur or be worsened by improperly moving them."

"Everything moved in slow motion," the 23-year Air Force veteran recalled. "I can still see it frame-by-frame. Many cars left the scene quickly, so I just pulled over to see if there was something I could do. When I got to the truck and saw the fuel leaking, my heart was pounding with the thought that it could explode any minute. The fuel leak and electric 'arcing' sound gave me quite a sense of urgency."

When the sheriff's department showed up, they commended Lind on taking the initiative and directing traffic: "Here," they said, offering him a reflective vest. "Don't want you getting killed out here."

For his part, Lind modestly said his reaction was just two-plus decades of military training kicking in.

"Use the training you have been given, but more importantly, know your limitations and don't do anything that might make matters worse," he advised. "Life has a way of throwing a curve ball at you now and then, and the present moment can change in an instant. There isn't much time to think, so you just react - and that's when your training will kick in."

Yost said that Sarpy dispatchers - as are most 911 center operators - are also trained in emergency medical dispatching.

"They'll ask many questions and offer advice on providing care until EMS responds," said Yost. "If possible, give a quick assessment of the injured persons to the 911 operator so that the correct number of rescue squads can be dispatched. Incoming EMS will want to know the type and severity of the injuries. And don't become frustrated with the operator asking the questions, a second operator will actually be notifying and communicating with the EMS squads that are en route to the scene.

"If a witness to the accident," said Yost, "stay and talk to the law enforcement officers on the scene. Their job is to determine from witness statements and evidence from the scene exactly what happened. Give them your full name and contact numbers so they can ask follow-up questions if necessary."

In this case, according to news reports, the driver of the truck received minor injuries; the 16-year-old driver of the Jeep was taken to a nearby hospital in fair condition and survived, while the passenger of the Jeep later succumbed to her injuries.