On the Edge of Life and Death: Firefighter helps save vehicle accident victim

  • Published
  • By Airrman 1st Class Patrick Boyle
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The tranquility of the day had been pierced by the screeching of sirens and light from emergency vehicles. First responders had arrived on the scene of a single vehicle accident; the two passengers, one male and one female, were strewn outside a mess of twisted metal and shattered glass. The wreckage stood testament to the uncertainty of life, all can be well in one moment and plunged into chaos the next. Like beacons of hope, the brightly clad first responders quickly approached the passengers with only one goal in mind- the preservation of life. Lives now hanging in the balance, and with time not on their side, the first responders had to act quickly and decisively to avert catastrophe.

Recently Senior Airman Ethan Embrey, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, was awarded the Senior Master Sergeant Robert A. McAllister Award for Firefighter Heroism at the Pacific Air Forces level for his life saving actions during the COPE North exercise at Tinian Island, 2023.

During the exercise Embrey had been assigned to the flightline on Crash Fire Rescue standby. He was not a participant in the exercise, rather he and the other firefighters were there to respond to any incidents and minimize loss of life and equipment.

While assigned to the flightline, Embrey’s truck was approached by an individual crying for help and telling him a vehicle crashed and two people were seriously injured.

“Initially I thought it was a part of the exercise,” said Embrey. “But when she told me that it was real, I hopped out the truck, grabbed my individual first aid kit, and headed to the scene.”

When he arrived on scene, Embrey saw the two victims. The male couldn’t feel his legs and appeared to be in the worse shape of the two, leading most of the first responders to pay more attention to him. Embrey decided to help the female after seeing that only one of the security forces members was attending to her.

“I was told to help with the male,” said Embrey. “But I said, ‘I’m going to take care of the girl,’ because only one person was helping her.”

“I told the security forces guard to check from head to waist as I was checking waist down to feet because I saw something protruding from her boot; her bone broke through the skin on her ankle. I was getting ready to splint and package her leg when she said, ‘my stomach hurts.’ She already was expressing an altered mental status so I knew something was wrong.”

Embrey immediately knew what her stomach pain could mean and understood the dire situation she could be in, promptly checking above her waist.

“I saw a black spot on the right of her navel which is the earliest sign of internal bleeding,” said Embrey. “I immediately call in that it's internal bleeding and I tell them to hold the plane, as it was preparing to take off . She has to be on the plane that just landed.”

Now understanding the grave situation the female patient was in, the crew onboard the plane was ordered to halt as Embrey and the other first responders loaded her up on the truck so she could receive the life saving treatment she needed.

“I was standing over her to make sure she didn’t shake on the truck bed,” said Embrey. “While getting her vitals I noted that she had a steady pulse which meant she was now going into hypovolemic shock. It was like a big ice cream scoop took out a chunk of her left thigh and instead of it gushing out it was feeding back into the stomach cavity.”

This latest assessment made it evident that the patient was spiraling. Embrey immediately told the driver to go faster, she couldn’t be away from the plane for much longer.

“I could’ve seen the black spot on her stomach and chalked it up to bruising. I have great leadership and training on the medical side, so I was able to recognize it as internal bleeding. I searched for everything at a rapid pace to make sure I wasn’t missing anything.”
said Embrey

They had reached the plane and Embrey handed her off to someone with greater medical qualification and gave his assessment of the patient. Embrey’s quick thinking ensured the female patient could reach the plane and give her a fighting chance.

“I was worried whether I did enough or if I provided care fast enough to make sure she made it somewhere that could provide the proper medical care,” concluded Embrey. “After I was notified that she pulled through, I was relieved to say the least.”

Senior Airman Ethan Embrey’s diligent efforts, through all the stress and complications, stand as a lasting reminder of not just a firefighter’s mission, but the mission of all Misawa first responders- to protect lives by doing everything they can.