FORT DRUM — Two Fort Drum soldiers went from enjoying a cup of coffee to helping someone in desperate need on Tuesday after a fuel vehicle exploded at Tripp Fuels, 1461 County Route 22 in Fowler.
Staff Sgt. Joshua A. Hayes and Pfc. Jacob V. Lundemo, who are both with Bravo Company 287 Infantry, had stopped on the way back to Fort Drum to get some coffee and gas when they heard what Sgt. Hayes described as a sound similar to a mortar round.
“The building shook,” Staff Sgt. Hayes said. “It shook the ground, it shook the seat that I was sitting in.”
Staff Sgt. Hayes said that he initially thought what he heard was a car crash before telling Pfc. Lundemo that he thought it sounded like a mortar round. He then said he heard the waitress say a vehicle had exploded.
“We immediately stood up and evacuated the building,” Staff Sgt. Hayes said.
While Staff Sgt. Hayes was evacuating that building, Pfc. Lundemo went to the building where the fuel depot was located to evacuate those people.
Staff Sgt. Hayes said they had everyone congregate at the northern part of the building when they found there were additional people next to the burning truck in addition to a person lying under the truck; At first, the person appeared unresponsive but later he was found to be moving.
Brandi M. Ashley, public information officer for state police Troop B, said on Tuesday that the person suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
After assessing the situation, Sgt. Hayes said the decision was collectively made to rescue the person that was under the vehicle.
In order to rescue the person, Sgt. Hayes and Pfc. Lundemo went up to the burning vehicle and Pfc. Lundemo instructed workers to shut off the valves and get other trucks out of the area. They directed a neighbor to help get the person out from under the truck, once they realized the person was alive and responsive, Staff Sgt. Hayes said.
According to a report from WWNY-TV, Channel 7 News, the neighbor, identified as Bradley Blackburn, also helped get his childhood friend to safety. Attempts to reach Mr. Blackburn on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Staff Sgt. Hayes said that an employee assisted in moving him to a safe grass area and administered first aid until EMS arrived on scene.
When Staff Sgt. Hayes and PFC Lundemo got to the burning truck, Staff Sgt. Hayes said the back end of the truck was “mushroomed out,” and that they could see smoke and flames coming from the back of the vehicle as well as four employees trying to extinguish the fire with the person still underneath the truck.
“We knew immediately we needed to take action and get the person out of there and everyone that was frantically moving out of there, it was just a matter of when the right time to do that was,” he said.
All of the training that is needed, not just medical training, helped prepare them for a moment like this, Staff Sgt. Hayes said.
“I think everything we do builds mental resiliency to handle stressful situations,” he said. “All the training in general that we’ve had, I think put us in a situation to be able to react properly to a situation that was otherwise very chaotic.”
Pfc. Lundemo was the first to speak to the man and said he asked the victim for his name, which he replied “John,” and Pfc. Lundemo told him that he “was going to be all right, we’re going to get you out of here.”
Staff Sgt. Hayes described the scene initially as “chaotic,” and that emotions were running high while they were trying to move the person into the safe grass area.
“When we got over there, everyone was helpful, everyone pitched in,” he said.
Clean blankets and towels were also given to the injured person to ensure no dirt would get into his wounds.
“Everyone was very helpful in providing any help that was needed,” Staff Sgt. Hayes said.
The staff sergeant said that while they were assisting the person, he was making sure they were going through the proper steps of caring for the victim and making sure they “didn’t miss anything.”
“Double-checking, triple-checking everything that we’ve already done to make sure we didn’t miss anything that could possibly help the person more until medical professionals arrived,” Staff Sgt. Hayes said.
Pfc. Lundemo has been at Fort Drum since last January while Staff Sgt. Hayes has been at the military base for a little over two years.
Pfc. Lundemo and Staff Sgt. Hayes said they plan to reach out in a few days to the injured person.
“We plan to reach out and extend our condolences and make sure that he’s doing OK, and if we can do anything to help him and his family in a time of need,” Sgt. Hayes said.
Staff Sgt. Hayes called the man “extremely tough.”
“Throughout the whole thing, he kept a good attitude,” he said.
Pfc. Lundemo said he asked him if he was all right and he responded by saying “Yup, I don’t know what happened but I’m on the ground.”
Staff Sgt. Hayes said he was glad they were there to help.
“I believe we were there to help,” he said. “That’s the only sense I can make of the whole situation, of all places. We were there to help, and I’m glad we were.”
Staff Sgt. Hayes said “it felt good to be able to help out, it really did.”
“I find more fulfillment in helping people than I do doing things that gratify and satisfy myself,” he said.