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Your First Priority

Your First Priority

Joint Force Headquarters Oregon
Oregon Army National Guard
Monmouth, Oregon

While being a good Samaritan and responding to those in need may be instinctual for those of us in uniform, there are dangers and risks we are likely to encounter. I thought I kept myself well prepared to respond to civilian accidents until one day I decided to stop at a vehicle rollover on Interstate 5 in the middle of Portland, Oregon.

I was southbound when I first saw the overturned vehicle in the northbound lanes. I checked the traffic around me, which was moving slow, pulled into the center median and turned on my hazard lights. I then went to the trunk of my car and retrieved my high-visibility vest and first aid kit with medical gloves.

While I crossed the center divider, I checked the situation for fuel spills, smoke and other signs of danger. There was glass all over the ground and one female victim hanging out of the vehicle. As I squatted to begin assessing the patient, another bystander asked what she could do to help. I told her to find me something I could kneel on to protect my knees from the glass, which she did quickly.

I felt safe to start first aid since I was wearing gloves, so I began managing the patient’s airway and calming her down to prevent shock. There was blood everywhere; however, I was not worried because I had my personal protective equipment (PPE). Fire fighters arrived several minutes later and immediately began to stabilize the vehicle. I then realized the vehicle could have already rolled on top of me while I was rendering aid. That was a hazard I had not considered.

After paramedics took control of the patient, I stepped away and removed my gloves. The glass that was in the patient’s hair had cut through the gloves and into my hands. I examined my hands and confirmed I’d been cut and there had been blood transfer. Even though I thought I was prepared, I was not. It hit me that I was in serious danger due to the risk of blood-borne pathogens. I canceled the rest of my work appointments for the day and went straight to an urgent care facility.

The physician informed me my chances were 1 in 5,000 that I had contracted either HIV, hepatitis or a host of other blood-borne diseases. We also spoke about how I needed to adjust my lifestyle so I did not expose my wife, family and fellow Soldiers to the potential hazards should I start bleeding. This new set of precautions lasted more than six months, during which I had to receive regular blood tests. Because I was not a first responder on duty during the accident, I was not able to receive any information regarding the victim’s health status due to HIPPA restrictions.

Since I was commanding a unit that included the 68W sustainment team for the state, I asked some of the instructors who were civilian paramedics what PPE they used so the next time I respond to an accident I’d be properly equipped. Coincidentally, over the next few years I stopped at three different civilian vehicle accidents where there was a substantial amount of blood and broken glass. Each time I stopped, I spent more time assessing the situation before treating the patients than I did during the original incident. I was also equipped with high-strength nitrile gloves, which are much more puncture resistant than standard medical exam gloves.

Thankfully, I did not contract any diseases from responding to the original accident, nor was I crushed from the vehicle rolling. There is no doubt in my mind that my military training enabled me to be much more effective than the civilians who stopped to help; however, this incident reinforced that there is always more to learn. I could have been killed, injured or become very sick, which would have affected my unit and family. It is a great thing to help others, but we must take care of ourselves first.


Sometimes, Soldiers and other good Samaritans who stop to render assistance at accident scenes or other roadside emergencies wind up being victims of other motorists. In 2021, two Soldiers were struck and killed on an interstate in Mississippi as they changed a flat tire for another Soldier. The previous year, a Soldier in Texas was killed as he attempted to direct traffic around an accident scene on an unlit, curved highway with vehicles traveling at high rates of speed.

If you encounter a roadside emergency requiring assistance, your personal safety should be your first priority. Follow the tips in the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center’s emergency roadside assistance brochure to help prevent one accident from becoming two. Click the following link to download your copy: https://safety.army.mil/API/Evotiva-UserFiles/FileActionsServices/DownloadFile?ItemId=90293&ModuleId=9242&TabId=123.

  • 27 August 2023
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 196
  • Comments: 0
Categories: Off-DutyPMV-4