SEMBACH, Germany -- Waking up to the loud sound of crashing metal and screeching tires is not something most people are accustomed to hearing in the early morning hours. However, that is exactly what happened during the early morning hours of May 13 in a small village just north of Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Sgt.1st Class Michelle Paris, a combat medic currently serving as the equal opportunity advisor for the Army’s Regional Health Command Europe, was getting ready for work when she heard what sounded like a loud crash outside her kitchen window. Looking out the window, she noticed two cars strewn around the narrow two-lane country road in front of her house. Paris immediately jumped into action and ran toward the accident scene in her pajamas and house shoes.
When Paris reached the accident site, she observed one badly damaged car with three victims still inside. The three individuals were airmen assigned to Ramstein Air Base who on their way to work. Paris’ years of combat medic training and combat deployments kicked-in and she started rendering first-aid to the victims. In addition to assisting the three airmen, Paris also pulled a German local national out of his work truck that had flipped upside down. Paris attended to all four victims singlehandedly.
“The casualty care I provided that day was instinctive and automatic due to my years of military medical training and real life combat deployments I’ve experienced,” said Paris. “There was no time to be hesitant or have second thoughts about the care I was providing. Once on scene, I was able to assess the situation, establish scene safety and determine the mechanism of injury. I then prioritized (triaged) the casualties based on what I saw and knew.”
Army combat medics are trained to provide medical care in austere or combat environments. They provide trauma and medical treatment at point of injury as well as primary care and evacuation to the next level of care.
“When I arrived on scene, I immediately removed a male local national who was trapped in his upside down tool truck,” added Paris. “At first, I was unable to remove him through the front driver door due to vehicle damage, so I forced the back door open and pulled him out that way.”
Paris says she went on autopilot, not taking her own safety into account.
“I ran to the upside down truck first because it was smoking heavily and fluid was leaking from the truck and into the street,” Paris said. “There was a possibility the leaking fluid may have been gasoline, so that is why I went to the truck first. After I pulled the man from the truck I then ran to the other car and I could see the driver moving inside. I noticed that the driver was trapped behind the air bag and was not able to exit the vehicle on his own. I forced his door open and assisted him with exiting the vehicle.”
Paris’ years of training kicked in and she immediately began to triage the victims.
“After assessing the driver’s injuries, I determined there was no apparent life threatening injuries,” Paris said. “I then saw the third casualty lying across the back seat of the car and he was in distress. I managed to open the back door of the car and immediately noticed a large area of blood on his upper left chest area. I called for the driver to come over and assist me.”
Paris asked the driver to stay with victim in the back seat while she ran to her house to get medical equipment.
“I returned less than a minute later with scissors and the only thing I could think of for an occlusive dressing - my household saran wrap. I then cut the victim’s uniform blouse off and saw that he had a left upper anterior open chest wound. I applied a piece of saran wrap over the wound and began to tape down the sides.”
Once she had her patient stabilized, Paris continued to triage her patients until first responders arrived.
First responders from the local German fire department arrived on scene shortly thereafter along with a life-flight helicopter. One of the more seriously injured airmen was flown by helicopter to a local German hospital for treatment and later transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center where he underwent care for his injuries. The other two airmen were treated for their injuries and released.
For the airmen, what had started out as a typical morning commute, quickly turned into a life or death situation.
“I remember my car spinning for a while and almost tipping over,” said Staff Sgt. Devante Smith, a munitions systems specialist assigned to the 86th Munitions Squadron at Ramstein Air Base. “A lot of white smoke was in the passenger compartment and I looked over to my left shoulder to check on the airman in the back seat. He was dazed and confused so I asked him if he could get out of the vehicle. Unfortunately, he was in too much shock to answer me. About that time, I noticed Sgt. 1st Class Paris running toward us from a house across the street. Had it not been for her immediately coming to our aid, there would not have been anyone else to help us. I am extremely grateful for her quick reaction and the medical aid she provided.”