Every Sailor first responder: two recruiters respond to Smithsburg car accident

Cover Photo: Gas Turbine System Technician (Mechanical) 2nd Class Dylan Bryant, a Springfield, Mo., native assigned to Navy Talent Acquisition Group Philadelphia, poses for a photo at Navy Recruiting Station Hagerstown, Jan. 17, 2023. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Diana Quinlan)

HAGERSTOWN, MD News (1/23/2023) – It was a usual work day with no indication it would be different from any other day at the office as two Navy Talent Acquisition Group Philadelphia recruiters drove to their recruiting station in Hagerstown, Md. But by the end of the day, they’d be heroes. Gas Turbine System Technician 2nd Class Bryant and Operations Specialist 2nd Class Michael Farrow, also a Springfield, Mo., native, came to the rescue after witnessing an accident involving three vehicles near Smithsburg on Jan. 11, 2023.

Taking familiar winding country roads to avoid the traffic, Gas Turbine System Technician (Mechanical) 2nd Class Dylan Bryant and Operations Specialist 2nd Class Michael Farrow, both Springfield, Mo., natives, discussed their tasks for the day, but their plans took a sharp turn as they cleared one of the hills on the road on Jan.11, 2023.

“Coming across the hill, we saw smoke coming out of a car, and Farrow looked at me and said, ‘Did you see that?’ recounted Bryant. “I realized what had happened. Farrow looked at me and it was almost like a weird comic book where we looked at each other and said, ‘Go time!’”

What they saw was the site of an accident involving three vehicles, and no one in sight through the smoke of destroyed engines. There was no discussion or second thoughts as the Sailors parked their vehicle on the side of the road to assist.

Every Sailor in the Navy is trained to be a firefighter and a first responder. On the ship, there is no calling 9-1-1, instead it’s the muscle memory gained through continuous emergency response training that kicks in. That muscle memory took over and both Sailors rushed to help.

Farrow and Bryant quickly took in what just happened: a black minivan had been “sandwiched” between a tractor-trailer and a cleaning van in the accident. The scene was partially obscured by smoke, fuel was leaking from the vehicles, and cleaning supplies and chemicals spilled from the van.

Another vehicle was pulled up on the side of the road, but the driver sat there frozen, unable to react seemingly after the shock of witnessing the accident.

“What do I do?” the driver asked approaching Bryant.

“Have you called 9-1-1?” was Bryant’s response.

The driver said that he has not, but was dialing now. Meanwhile, Farrow and Bryant had quickly assessed the situation and leapt into action. They split to assist each victim, with Farrow approaching the black vehicle crushed in between two others, and Bryant rushing to the cleaning van.

“He [Bryant] went to the van; it was the husband and wife. They were screaming, hollering, crying. I went to the black Explorer stuck in between,” recalled Farrow. “There was a lot of gasoline coming out of it, an engine still on and smoking, and I was worried that someone was still inside while the car could possibly catch fire.”

The inside of the wrecked vehicle was obscured by the crushed car hood, cracked windshield and deployed airbags.

“I saw some feet hanging out of a door and yelled out, ‘Are you okay?’, and thankfully a woman said ‘yes’,” said Farrow. “I asked if anybody else was in there, and thankfully there was none. She moved the airbag and it was just blood… At this point, I made sure her limbs were good, and that I could help her move away from the car. All I could think was that I had to act, I was afraid that the car would catch on fire.”

According to Farrow, at this point the tractor-trailer driver had finally walked over, he was shaking from shock, but otherwise unharmed. He and Bryant helped Farrow move the woman to the side of the road, trying to help out as much as he could until everyone arrived.

“If it wasn’t for the possible danger of her car catching fire, we would not move her to avoid any further injury,” explained Farrow. “But all we could think of was a smoking engine and gasoline spilling from the car, I just wanted her away from it.”

Once on the side of the road, Farrow held her up, and Bryant tried to keep her as calm as possible, worried about the possibility she had sustained a head injury as paramedics arrived.

“I remember I was trying to keep the conversation going with her, I think her name was Maddie, so that she would stay calm,” added Bryant. “I asked her, ‘what are you doing today?, and she’s like, ‘I’m probably getting fired.’ I asked for what, and she responded, ‘for getting in this wreck’. I assured her that it’s not how it works. She also said she was glad she didn’t take her dog with her, as she usually does… because the back of her car, where the dog normally rides, was practically gone…”

According to Bryant, the passengers of the cleaning van were in bad shape too. The driver, as Bryant recalled, remained conscious, in shock from the collision while his passenger had suffered multiple injuries.

“You could see on the windshield where he hit it, and he had a giant bruise on his forehead,” remembered Bryant. “But the van driver was able to move and helped me with his wife. She had the worst of them all: she had a broken leg and fractured her femur, it was just like Jell-O. She also had a pretty bad head injury. I helped hold her neck and head up as paramedics took over, but she was going in and out of consciousness.”

It took only minutes for police and paramedics to arrive on the scene and take over, but to Bryant and Farrow it felt much longer. Even so, without their help the situation may have been very different. After reports were taken by the police and paramedics were there to care for the accident victims, Farrow and Bryant resumed their commute to the station – back to just another day at the office.

“There was nothing else for us to do, and we didn’t want to be in the way of the EMTs,” said Farrow. “We helped to clean some debris off the road, and headed back to work. Everyone involved in the accident was taken to the hospital for treatment, and hopefully a smooth recovery.”

Trained by the Navy to fight over the freeze-flight response, it was second nature for these Sailors to stop and help those in need. All the emotions would take over later, but in that moment their calm and collected actions were what people in distress needed the most.

“Thinking back, it was very stressful and horrifying, but at the moment we could only act, to help as much as we could and were trained,” shared Bryant. “It’s another day that these people are on this earth, and they’re with their families and friends, and that’s all I cared about; the fact that everyone walked away from that, everyone got away from the situation – that’s all I cared about, really. And like Farrow and I have said the same thing to each other, ‘it’s just beyond lucky that everyone was alive, and it didn’t turn for the worse’.”

Farrow added that it was just something that happened, and they were simply in the right place at the right time.

“Both of these recruiters are active in the community and have always put others before themselves, so it was no surprise that they responded to this situation without hesitation,” shared Chief Sonar Technician (Surface) Robert Thompson, leading chief petty officer at Navy Recruiting Station Hagerstown. “Their actions speak for themselves – it is what being in a position to serve truly means. I couldn’t be prouder of my Sailors.”

NTAG Philadelphia encompasses regions of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia, providing recruiting services from more than 30 talent acquisition sites, with the combined goal of attracting the highest quality candidates to assure the ongoing success of America’s Navy.

Story by Chief Petty Officer Diana Quinlan, US Navy.

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