Fairfax, Va. – It’s spring break for a family when a scenic ride home from a day at Virginia Beach turns into a horrific tragedy. Along a dangerous stretch of narrow road that winds through the wetlands, a car carrying seven people veers off, overcorrects and is t-boned by a pickup truck. As the car slams into a drainage ditch, a child is ejected into the air, leaving six others trapped inside the flattened wreckage.
Drawing on their expert training to rapidly assess the situation, the Virginia Beach Fire Department’s Engine 17 crew works skillfully as a team to save the lives of three critically-injured children. Their exemplary professionalism, dedication and courage have earned them a prestigious honor in fire service: the 2015 IAFC/Motorola Solutions Ben Franklin Award for Valor.
The award recognizes firefighters around the world for their expert training, leadership, heroic actions and safe practices. Named after Benjamin Franklin, the nation’s first fire chief, it is the highest honor bestowed by the IAFC.
Medals will be presented to Captain William Bailey, Master Firefighter Kevin Wirth and Firefighters Robert Doran and Paul Sigwart, along with an award for Chief Steven R. Cover, at the general session of Fire-Rescue International (FRI) on Aug. 27 in Atlanta. FRI is the annual conference of the IAFC.
Engine 17 Crew’s Courage and Dedication Saves Lives
It’s early evening on April 16, 2014, when the Engine 17 crew is dispatched to a deadly crash on Sandbridge Road, several blocks from Virginia Beach. Arriving in minutes and assessing the wreckage, the emergency responders upgrade the incident to mass casualty. Learning that air ambulance support is unavailable, Bailey calls for multiple ground ambulances and extrication equipment.
Doran quickly shuttles medical equipment across the drainage ditch as Wirth and Sigwart begin triage.
The ejected child is in cardiac arrest and another child, who they pull out the back window of the car, is unresponsive and severely injured.
As extrication begins, the crew of Engine 17 realizes the accident is more horrific than originally thought. Those trapped inside the car are not only critically injured, but six of the seven are children.
Cutting through metal time after time, the crew removes child after child after child. Four of the seven victims are in cardiac arrest, three are unconscious and critically injured and the driver is deceased. The ages and identities of the passengers are unknown. As the Engine 17 crew works feverishly to save lives, responding crews search the area and find no other victims.
Within half an hour of Engine 17’s arrival, eight patients are being transported to two hospitals. Five of the eight are children, 9 to 13 years old. Despite tremendous trauma and a grueling rescue, five of the victims will survive.
Captain Bailey and firefighters Wirth, Doran and Sigwart responded with great courage and composure in the midst of a complex and stressful mass-casualty rescue to save lives.
“The extraordinary teamwork, professionalism and dedication of the Virginia Beach Fire Department’s Engine 17 is the standard all firefighters strive to achieve,” said Chief G. Keith Bryant, IAFC president and chairman of the board. “On behalf of the IAFC and our longtime partner Motorola Solutions, congratulations to Captain Bailey, Master Firefighter Wirth, and Firefighters Doran and Sigwart for demonstrating the highest degree of excellence in our industry and receiving this high honor on an international stage.
About the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC)
The IAFC represents the leadership of firefighters and emergency responders worldwide. IAFC members are the world's leading experts in firefighting, emergency medical services, terrorism response, hazardous materials spills, natural disasters, search and rescue, and public safety legislation. Since 1873, the IAFC has provided a forum for its members to exchange ideas, develop professionally and uncover the latest products and services available to first responders. Learn more
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