En route to pull teeth, Army Civil Affairs members pull man from tractor-trailer crash
Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa
On a busy two-way road packed with motorists about an hour south of Djibouti City, four 18-wheelers sat smashed together, their cabs crushed like soda cans in a recycle bin. Shattered glass covered the streets, and the screams of a trapped man filled the air.
Before coming face-to-face with this tragic accident, members from the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, were en route to Ali Adde, a remote village not far from the Somali border, for a dental civic action program mission to provide basic dental care to local villagers, Feb. 10, 2016.
That mission looked as if it would have to wait when the team approached a traffic jam of more than 40 cargo trucks at stand still. Not far from the Port of Djibouti, which supplies 18 countries and 380 million people with various goods, a large swarm of cargo trucks often block roads and bring traffic to a stand still.
Like many other motorists, the civil affairs team decided to weave in and out of narrow openings to pass the massive trucks blocking the road. That decision would prove invaluable for one man.
As the team approached the middle of the traffic jam, they realized an accident had taken place.
“At first it appeared to be just a rear-ending, but as we got up close I could see one person on the ground,” said Sgt. 1st Class Melissa Ferris, 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion Delta Company senior medic. “We made the determination to stop and help, and if everyone was ok, we would keep going.”
However, a man was trapped in his tractor-trailer and needed medical attention. That’s when the civil affairs team including Ferris, a member of the Army Reserves and a 11-year veteran of the Syracuse Police Department, and Sgt. 1st Class Cynthia Price, a volunteer firefighter in her home town of Ivyland, Pennsylvania, sprung into action and quickly took over the hectic scene.
Bystanders wrapped chains around the tangled mess of crushed metal to free the man trapped inside as Ferris called for her bag of supplies and began treatment.
While more than 20 bystanders surrounded them, Ferris and Price took charge and quickly had control of the scene.
The training and experience both Ferris and Price gained in the Army and as first responders in their hometowns proved crucial.
“Everyone was just standing around, so I had to take charge,” said Ferris. “You have those moments in training where you think this is so repetitive, but then when it happens real-world like this, you take control and do what you can to help.”
Between the two, Ferris and Price have responded to countless vehicle accidents in the U.S.
“It was no different than being back home. Being a firefighter and drill sergeant it runs through your blood,” said Price. “Muscle memory kicks in and that’s it – we are going to assist in any way we can.”
As the man lay on the pavement writhing in pain, Ferris and Price went to work.
After checking for massive bleeding and an open airway, their thoughts turned to saving his eyesight.
“After we immobilized his neck, my main focus was to get the glass that shattered in his face and eyes out safely,” said Ferris.
Nearly 20 minutes after arriving at the crash site and working tirelessly treating the victim, the sound of sirens could be heard in the distance.
While the remaining team members cleared a path, Ferris and Price strapped the man to a stretcher and loaded him into the waiting ambulance.
Once the ambulance doors closed, Ferris and Price stood there in the middle of the road. No report to fill out, no names to take down and no witnesses with which to speak. They did exactly what they knew needed to be done.
“It’s the right thing to do. I wouldn’t drive past an accident back home in New York,” said Ferris. “If someone drove off the side of the road in the snow, I’m going to stop and see if they need assistance. It’s just something that I do. It didn’t matter that we were in Africa.”
“It was no different than being back home. If the scene is safe, you go in, you do what you need to do to assist and get them to a hospital. You take care of people,” said Price.
As Ferris and Price stood in the road, dripping sweat with hand covered in blood and dirt, they removed their gloves, and wrapped their arms around each other and hugged.