Academy first responders save lightning strike victim at county fair

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Heather Stanton
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Two first responders stationed here saved the life of a lightning strike victim at the El Paso County fair July 19.

Andrea Caraway and Tommy Disario, both fire inspectors for the 10th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire and Emergency Services flight, volunteered to work at the fair’s medical tent as part of a mutual aid agreement with the Calhan Fire Department.

“We were staffing the medical tent when we heard a loud boom, and then heard a lot of commotion,” Caraway said. “We got on a response vehicle and responded as fair personnel were calling for medics to respond to a patient struck by lightning.”

Upon arrival to the scene, both first responders found the woman lying on her back in the dirt.

“The patient was bluish-purple and not breathing,” Disario said. “A bystander explained he attempted compressions. I immediately opened the airway, set up a bag valve mask connected to oxygen and started ventilating the victim.”

Once the victim began breathing on her own, the Calhan FD arrived and assisted with transporting the patient via medical helicopter to a facility for additional care.

“I don’t believe that my actions alone saved the patient but I believe the actions of everyone involved helped save the patient,” Caraway said. “An emergency of that nature is complicated and requires everyone to play a part. If anyone had delayed in their actions from calling 911, starting patient care, patient transport and then the receiving medical facility, the outcome could have been very different.”

Though both Disario and Caraway had never responded to a lightning strike emergency before, they were prepared due to their training.

“I have responded to a vast amount of medical emergencies in over 16 years of being a firefighter, but I have never responded to an emergency of this nature,” Caraway said. “However, I have had training on responding to lightning emergencies. We never know ahead of time what we will be responding to, so we train for a multitude of scenarios to provide the best possible care to the public.”

The 10th CES Fire and Emergency Services flight trains daily for all phases of emergencies, including mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery, according to Disario.

“The incident is another example of (the U.S. Air Force Academy’s) dedication to providing exceptional fire and emergency services,” Disario said. “It is what we train for each and every day. I feel great knowing my leadership has given me the necessary tools and training to confidently perform my job.”