By By Maureen RoseFebruary 3, 2010
FORT KNOX, Ky. - Tammy Hiser, a registered nurse who works in the Joint Theater Trauma Registry at Fort Knox's Ireland Army Community Hospital, was riding with fellow Fort Knox employees Tuesday morning in a commuter van from Louisville to Knox. The icy roads had slowed traffic to a crawl when they spotted something in the highway that shouldn't have been there.
It was a pick-up truck, upside down and resting in the slow westbound lane of the Gene Snyder Freeway near the Stonestreet exit.
"We have to stop," Hiser insisted. "We have medical professionals on this van and we have to stop."
The van driver obeyed and Hiser sprang to the motorist's aid by crawling into the cab of the ruined pick-up to assess the damage. The truck driver-Hiser never thought to ask for his name-miraculously seemed unhurt, although he was hanging upside down from his roof, suspended by his seatbelts.
He explained to Hiser that he had hit a patch of ice and the truck had flipped over, coming to rest on its roof. During his revolutions, the driver appeared to have shifted out of his seat, forcing his shoulder belt and lap belt down across his abdomen where the two had him cinched in.
"He kept saying, 'I can't breathe,' but he didn't appear hurt otherwise," Hiser recalled.
After determining that the motorist was mostly uninjured, Hiser noticed a few other cars had stopped to help-and realized that all the Good Samaritans were Knox employees. One of those was a Soldier.
"I needed a knife and I knew the Soldier would have one-that's just a given," Hiser explained.
She asked to borrow the knife, then managed to insert her fingers between the driver and his seat belt and started working to cut through the fabric. She struggled to work the knife through the tightly woven material.
Working around the motorist and the deployed airbags, Hiser realized that fumes were building in the cab's interior, which probably added to the driver's distress and breathing difficulties. She asked if the Soldier could help ventilate the cab, so the cab's rear window was dispatched with the quick application of a combat boot.
Once they were both breathing a little easier, Hiser finally managed to cut through both safety belts. She and the Soldier managed to extricate the motorist through a window. The driver got to his feet and, once she was standing beside him, Hiser realized why the cab had seemed so crowded; the motorist was much taller and heavier than she.
"He was a really big guy," she said. "He was at least a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than me."
Now hyperactive, the motorist walked around his truck excitedly, exclaiming, "I thought I was dead! I thought I was dead!"
Fellow commuter and IACH staffer Dr. Richard Malubay offered to check out the driver, but the man declined, insisting he was fine.
Once the ambulance arrived, Hiser gave a report to the EMTs, explaining what she saw when she first arrived on the scene and what she had done.
One of the Soldiers used his own truck to push the totaled vehicle out of the traffic lane.
Hiser said she hasn't had any previous experience in extrications, but she had worked in the emergency room before. She was sure she didn't do anything unusual.
"I just did what anybody would have done-or at least, what they should have done," Hiser said. "But I noticed no one else stopped but Fort Knox folks."
The Good Samaritans were late for work, but Hiser said she was okay with that.
"It was only 7 a.m. when the accident happened and it was still dark and icy," she explained. "If we hadn't stopped, another car might have hit him. There's no telling how long it would have been before help arrived-he couldn't reach his cell phone. We had to stop."