By Ms. Chanel Weaver (USACE)October 13, 2010
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Capt. David Kassop, M.D. had only been assigned to the 22d Chemical Battalion (Technical Escort) at Aberdeen Proving Ground for about two weeks Aug. 4 when he showed up late for work.
But he had a good reason.
The new surgeon for the 22d Chemical Battalion had just spent two hours rendering medical assistance to save the lives of a man and woman who were involved in a horrific accident on I-95 in Baltimore.
On his way to work that morning, Kassop stopped to pay the toll on I-95 at the Fort McHenry Tunnel. While he was paying the toll, a car suddenly slammed into the concrete barrier next to him and ignited into flames immediately.
"It sounded like a big explosion," Kassop said.
Kassop, who recently completed a three-year residency in internal medicine at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, knew he had to do something.
"I pulled over to the side of the road and immediately rushed to the scene to see what I could do to help," Kassop said.
As Kassop announced he was a doctor, the assembling crowd made way to let him through. What Kassop saw was devastating.
"The car was on fire, the front end was demolished, the windows were smashed, and I could see the airbags had been deployed," Kassop said.
Kassop rushed to the driver-side window and observed an elderly man who looked unconscious.
"My first instinct was to get the guy out of the car," Kassop said.
Events unfolded quickly.
Kassop, and a team of three other commuters, including Master Sgt. Mark Lugenbeel, ran to the scene. They tried to open the car door, but their labor was to no avail. A toll booth attendant rushed over, carrying a fire extinguisher. The team used the fire extinguisher to put out the flames. After the fire was extinguished, a police officer arrived with a crow bar, and tried to open the door to pull the man from the vehicle.
Despite these attempts, Kassop, Lugenbeel and the rest of the team could not get the man out.
In the meantime, one of the team members ran to the passenger side of the vehicle, and smashed the window to see if the team could pull the driver out of the vehicle through the passenger side.
To everyone's surprise, there was an elderly female in the front passenger seat.
"We didn't know she was in there," Kassop said. "There was so much smoke that we didn't see her."
The team pulled her out of the vehicle.
Lugenbeel said they got the woman out just in time.
"As soon as we pulled her from the wreckage, the center console and her seat engulfed into flames," Lugenbeel said.
Kassop rushed to the woman's side to offer first aid.
"Since we couldn't get the man out, I thought I could at least help this lady," Kassop said.
In that traditional Army leadership style, Kassop began barking orders.
"Lay her on her back!" he said.
As Kassop began to perform an initial assessment, he was relieved to see that his patient was conscious.
"Did you get my husband out'" the lady murmured.
"We're still working on that," Kassop said.
Kassop determined the woman would survive her injuries.
"She was talking and could move all of her extremities - her arms, legs, fingers, and toes," Kassop said. "She also had some bruises and cuts on her, but I saw no signs of hemorrhaging. I knew she would be okay."
So Kassop ensured a team member stayed with the woman, instructed him to keep the victim on her back, and rushed back to assist the driver.
"I checked the driver's neck, and felt a pulse, so I was relieved," Kassop said. "I also saw that the guy had dentures, so I removed the dentures to ensure his airway wasn't obstructed."
By this time a passing paramedic, who was on his way home from work, arrived on scene and brought a medical bag that included an intravenous bag of electrolytes, or IV.
"We got the IV going to ensure the man didn't lose any more fluids," Kassop said.
Almost 25 minutes after the crash, the paramedics arrived.
"It took the paramedics a while to get there because they initially responded to the wrong scene," Lugenbeel said. "They thought the accident was in the adjacent Harbor Tunnel on Interstate-895."
The paramedics and firefighters used the "Jaws of Life" and successfully removed the driver from the car and placed him onto a stretcher.
"I'm glad that we could keep both victims alive," Kassop said. "In these types of situations, time is life."
While both car crash victims were on their way to the hospital, Kassop, Lugenbeel, and another witness remained on the scene to fill out numerous witness statements. The morning's events were certainly ingrained in their minds.
"The police officers kept thanking us," Kassop said." It was admirable to see how we all came together for a common purpose."
This chance meeting was not the first time Kassop and Lugenbeel met. As Lugenbeel read the doctor's name on his Army uniform, he recalled that Kassop was once his doctor and treated him while he was a patient at Walter Reed.
"It's a small world," Lugenbeel said.
"It was certainly an extraordinary day," Kassop echoed.
As he continued his commute to work, Kassop couldn't help but credit all of the training he has completed in the Army with helping him to react so quickly to save lives.
"I recently re-certified on the Advanced Cardiac Life Support Course at Walter Reed, and those direct skills and lessons learned in the classroom were applicable to this situation," Kassop said.
When Kassop finally arrived to work on the Edgewood Area of APG, he explained his tardiness to 22nd Chemical Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Chadwick Bauld. The commander praised him for his actions.
Bauld said he was not surprised that Kassop reacted so honorably to save the lives of two people he didn't know. He said Kassop, who was still waiting on an office space at the clinic, was already demonstrating that a doctor does not need to be working in an exam room to make a difference.
"Captain David Kassop is already focused on improving the medical readiness of the battalion," Bauld said. "He is a very hard worker, is genuinely concerned for the Soldiers and Family members' well-being, and is a tremendous asset to the battalion. He is constantly studying to improve his profession."
A few weeks after the incident, a police officer investigating the accident reported that both victims survived.
Although Lugenbeel helped to remove the victims from the car, he said Kassop was the real hero, and the car crash victims were fortunate to have Kassop's expertise.
"If Doctor Kassop had not been there, those victims would have perished - there's no doubt," he said.