Capt. Carrie Haag and 1st Sgt. Charles Cotto were driving back to their company headquarters on the North Shore of Boston, Massachusetts, after a packed day of station visits, when a school transportation van suddenly pulled a hard left across the highway in front of their truck.
The team had been deep in conversation talking about all the work they had to do for the week and their pending production call, until the van struck a vehicle in their lane.
“It was all in slow motion,” Cotto said. “I was driving and I was thinking, What is this guy doing? Fortunately, there were no kids in the vehicle.”
Pulling into the breakdown lane behind the bus to block traffic, they ran out to see what was going on. The driver was slumped over in the passenger seat and unresponsive. Haag waved to a wrecker truck driving by for a breaker bar because they couldn’t get the vehicle unlocked.
Under pressure, the team was calm. Taking charge of the situation, they did what needed to be done - used the bar to break the window, put the bus in park, and had someone call 911 as they attended to the driver. The man, who was wearing his seatbelt, was slumped over and needed to be pulled up into his seat.
“We knew the signs of a stroke,” Cotto said. “Through combat life experiences while deployed, I know the signs and symptoms of major traumatic injuries or situations.”
They loosened up clothing so nothing was restrictive to help the blood flow as his pulse was very low and erratic.
“I stayed with him and spoke softly,” Cotto said. “I asked him to squeeze my hand if he could hear me. And when he squeezed my hand back, I took a deep breath in relief that he responded to my voice. I felt a huge burden relieved from my shoulders, the feeling that a civilian life was in my hands and I was able to bring him back to consciousness."
They took turns holding his hand until the medics arrived to take over.
“I wanted him to know we were there and that he wasn’t alone,” Haag said. “I told him, ‘You scared us!' and he said, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.’ We created a connection to keep him conscious."
Reflecting on the experience, Haag explained that after the event she and Cotto were in shock that this had happened. She stated that, at the time, tunnel vision kicked in and nothing else mattered. It all happened so fast, they just reacted.
“The EMS told us that if it had not been for us giving life saving measures, then he would have died,” Cotto said. “It was like a movie with a cut scene inserted into the middle of the day.”
In the end, the North Shore Company command team made it back in time for their production call.
“You don’t expect this to happen and we reacted the best way that we could,” Cotto said. “We just did what needed to be done. Life goes on and it did for him as well.”