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Defenders rescue civilian in rollover

A vehicle rests in a snowbank after a rollover Feb. 20, 2019, near Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.

A vehicle rests in a snowbank after a rollover Feb. 20, 2019, near Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. A team of security forces Airmen were returning from a tour in the missile field when they encountered a civilian trapped in the vehicle. (Courtesy photo by Senior Airman William English)

These Airmen jumped into action to free a civilian who had been trapped in her vehicle after a rollover.

From left, Senior Airman Tyler Shepherd, 341st Missile Security Forces Squadron missile security operator; Airman 1st Class Andrew Page, 341st MSFS missile security operator; Senior Airman William English, 341st MSFS flight security controller; and Staff Sgt. Roy Fajardo, 341st MSFS missile security operator; pose for a portrait Feb. 26, 2019, at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. These Airmen jumped into action to free a civilian who had been trapped in her vehicle after a rollover. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tristan Truesdell)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- For one team of Airmen, a seemingly normal drive home turned into an adrenaline rush to save a civilian in the midst of a snow storm.

A vehicle had hit a snowbank and rolled over on the side of the road, trapping its driver and giving the Airmen just minutes to act to get the occupant to safety as soon as possible.

“We were maybe 15 minutes away from base,” said Senior Airman William English, 341st Missile Security Forces Squadron flight security controller. “Visibility was anywhere from zero to 100 yards with the snow storm, wind blowing more snow and it being at night.”

English and his team were making their typical drive home from the missile complex when they noticed flashing lights to the side of the road and decided to pull over and assess the situation.

Bystanders were already gathered around the scene and the Airmen assumed they were the vehicle occupants. However, the group informed them the driver was still locked inside.

The Airmen immediately jumped into action, distributing roles amongst themselves to accomplish the rescue.

Weather conditions meant frostbite could quickly overcome whomever was vulnerable and increase the severity of injuries.

Senior Airman Tyler Shepherd, 341st MSFS missile security operator, stayed behind to guard the Humvee and weapons, per protocol, as his team worked to free the trapped driver.

In charge of communicating the situation with the base, Airman 1st Class Andrew Page, 341st MSFS missile security operator, contacted base missile security controllers to inform them his team would return to base later than planned.

He also provided and suggested tools normally carried on their vests to assist in freeing the driver, such as a seatbelt cutter and a tool to break glass.

Staff Sgt. Roy Fajardo, 341st MSFS missile security operator, used his prior emergency management knowledge and broke a window to verify the amount of victims and injuries.

“I realized she was an elderly lady and I became more afraid for her,” he said. “She could have been in more harm than someone younger would be in.”

However, that wasn’t the case.

Fajardo questioned the woman to test her consciousness as she was suspended by her seatbelt, she responded with jokes - which reassured him she was okay and in a favorable condition.

He further questioned her to gather full information of the situation and to keep her conscious.

“She told me she was on her way back from Colorado, easily a 15-hour drive, and she was fatigued,” said Fajardo. “She also had two knee-replacement surgeries and a brittle shoulder so we had to consider that.”

The other Airmen laid out their coats over broken glass to prevent any unnecessary cuts, while Fajardo crawled through the vehicle to open a door for his team to retrieve the woman.

They made a sling with a blanket to prevent the woman from falling to the floor after cutting the seatbelt and wrapped it around her to pull her out of the vehicle.

“When we got her out, we asked her how she felt and stood her up to see if she was stable,” said English. “We moved her from the car and then updated the base MSC on the situation.”

Not long after she was freed from the vehicle, civilian emergency services arrived to administer care and transport her to a local hospital for further assistance.

“I’m proud of my Airmen; they reacted quickly,” said Fajardo. “I know some people would’ve continued driving but they took the initiative to stay and help.”

Although the event was short, each Airman say they gained an experience that would last and help them in the future.

For Page, he was inspired by Fajardo’s actions and wants to pursue a path where his leader learned those skills, such as volunteering time to help local emergency management.

Others were amazed their military training naturally came into play and were more prepared for the situation than expected.

“Some of the training we get as defenders actually does help, even the everyday tools they give us…everything has a purpose,” English added. “Our training comes into play and you’re already prepared without realizing it.”
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