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Airmen first responders at local auto accidents
By Christopher Kratzer, Air University Public Affairs
/ Published December 16, 2011
MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
Two Airmen from Maxwell - Chief Master Sgt. Garth Meade, the command chief master sergeant for 42nd Air Base Wing, and 1st Lt. Frederick Olsen, an Officer Training School flight commander - responded to two auto crashes in Montgomery recently, helping those in need.
Crash witness steps in
Meade and his wife witnessed a one-vehicle accident after the Remembrance Day ceremony in Montgomery Nov. 13.
"We were just a few blocks away on a fairly busy road when all of the sudden we saw a telephone pole fall, and the transformer blew up," he said. "Then to our amazement, we witnessed in the road right in front of us a truck flipping in the air, wires wrapped around it. Apparently, the driver lost control and hit the telephone pole. This caused the wires to fall, and they appeared to have wrapped the vehicle. As we were watching this, the transformer on the pole right above us blew up."
Meade pulled over and "watched the truck come to a stop upside down." He and his wife called 911.
"I immediately ran to the truck, tossing my service coat off into the grass," he said. "I observed that the downed power lines were about 10 feet away from vehicle, and there was no sign of leaking gas. I was very concerned for the driver's safety."
When Meade reached the vehicle, he saw the driver trying to get out of the vehicle and assisted him. "In order to do that, I had to get down into the road and lay in glass," he said, a maneuver that caused him to sustain multiple cuts.
"I was able to assist him out and get him up and over to the side of the road, where I treated him for shock. A few minutes later, I heard the sirens of the first responders. I must admit, that was a very welcomed sound! We were very grateful that the driver was fine."
Fatal crash tests Airman
The outcome of a Dec. 3 wreck in Montgomery, which claimed the life of a girl, has left a lasting impression on Olsen, one of the first on the scene.
"I was driving home from church when I arrived just moments after the Compassion 21 van rolled on its right side," he said. "My wife, who was a few vehicles ahead of me with my four kids, called and said, 'Get out and help with that accident!' I would have pulled over anyway, but it's good to know that we were both thinking the same thing."
Olsen said he was stunned by the wreckage, but it didn't take long for his instincts to take over.
"After taking some deep breaths, I remember asking myself again and again, during those few seconds, if I were imagining this," he said. "As my senses started to return, I began to accept what I had feared most, that this was all real and I needed to help. At that moment, even though I was wearing a white shirt and tie, I could feel my military training take over. It's remarkable how it all comes back to you during the moments you need it most."
Olsen worked with two others to free a woman trapped in the van. He and the men were able to rescue her and reunite her with her young child also involved in the crash.
"Her leg and arm were both hurt, and she was scared," Olsen said. "There were two men frantically trying to break the back window to help her get out. Once we realized that wasn't going to work, we pulled back the broken front windshield to get inside. Shards of broken glass fell on us, several pieces landing in my church shoes. Despite the pain of walking, I was focused on calming the woman down and working together with the other two men to safely and quickly get her out."
Eleven-year-old Joy Carlisle was killed in the accident, and Olsen sat with the distraught father of the girl, recalling the way his grandmother reacted in times of grief.
"As a fellow father, I couldn't help but feel the utmost compassion and heartache for this man I did not know," Olsen said. "I sat next to him, pulled his head into my chest as if I were comforting one of my little ones and cried with him. I could not begin to imagine the agony this family was suffering. I remember how my Grandma Joy would sit and cry with strangers whenever she would see them mourn. I kept thinking about her that afternoon and how grateful I was for her loving examples."
After the accident, he reached out to the grieving family.
"I was impressed as hundreds gathered in to honor little Miss Carlisle," he said. "It was the largest funeral I've ever attended. The service was beautiful as they focused on the celebration of life."
Olsen said the problem-solving and stress management lessons he taught at OTS allowed him to manage the situation.
"I learned years ago that when you're serving another in need, it helps put your own problems at ease," he said. "Speaking words of encouragement and comfort helped all of us remain calm, and it helped me take command of a tense situation."
Ultimately, he said was just glad he could help those affected by this crash.
"After the funeral, I feel more at peace about what happened. I was grateful to see so many loving hands and hearts throughout the community step in and help a grieving family," Olsen said. "This experience has reminded me the need to always be ready, and keep myself fit to fight, physically, mentally, socially and spiritually. We never know when or where duty will call."