For Sara Shaffer, being a firefighter medic is more than job—it’s her life. The American Legion Veterans Organization named Shaffer, as the National Firefighter of the Year for saving the life of a volunteer firefighter last year on the Capitol Beltway following an accident involving a fire truck, an SUV and a tractor-trailer.Mark Brady, spokesman […]
For Sara Shaffer, being a firefighter medic is more than job—it’s her life.
The American Legion Veterans Organization named Shaffer, as the National Firefighter of the Year for saving the life of a volunteer firefighter last year on the Capitol Beltway following an accident involving a fire truck, an SUV and a tractor-trailer.
Mark Brady, spokesman for the Prince George’s County Fire Department said Shaffer is the first woman from Prince George’s County to win the award, beating out more than 1,000 nominations from across the nation.
Shaffer will always remember the evening of January 31, 2013, when she and four other firefighters from Rescue Squad 806 saw an accident involving a tractor-trailer, an SUV and a fire engine from the West Lanham Hills Volunteer Department.
“We were just returning from another accident on the Beltway when we witnessed the departmental accident,” Shaffer said. “I was not aware of the fire engine being involved until I saw the hose all over the Beltway.”
Shaffer and her crew were the only ones at the scene, so they split up to help those injured in the accident. Shaffer said she ran over to the fire engine and was informed by injured firefighters that another person was trapped in the cab of the fire engine.
Shaffer went to the cab and found the firefighter, who she said was in grave condition.
“I could not see his legs,” Shaffer said. “They appeared to be pinned beneath the engine, and he had also suffered massive trauma to his arm.”
Shaffer ran to retrieve extrication equipment from Frank Mills, the fire technician for Rescue Squad 806. When she found Mills, he was attempting to assist the driver of the SUV, who had become pinned between the pavement and the vehicle’s roof.
Fearing the victim would suffocate if they moved the vehicle, Shaffer said Mills used his weight to gently rock the SUV while she pulled the passenger out.
Shaffer then ran back to the fire engine and entered the fire engine through the front windshield to assess the injured firefighter. She said the firefighter was pale but awake and covered by equipment. She removed all debris from the cramped cab, freeing him from the waist down.
The firefighter had suffered an amputation of his right arm above the elbow, Shaffer said, so she positioned him so his body weight would control the bleeding. Shaffer also attempted to keep the near unconscious firefighter awake and calm while other units arrived to the scene to help finish the extrication.
Once the firefighter escaped, he was transported to a local hospital.
For Shaffer, the initial image of the crash site is one she will remember for a long time.
“When we arrived on the scene I thought it looked like a bomb had gone off with the way the debris was still coming towards our squad,” Shaffer said. “When I got to the front of the engine and saw that most of the crew was mobile-with less serious injuries, there was some relief. After that, I was just focused on getting (the firefighter) stabilized and out of the engine to a hospital.”
Shaffer said she has been around firefighters since she was a child because her father, uncle and cousin all served with the Prince George’s County Fire Department. Shaffer became a volunteer firefighter when she turned 18 and became a career member in 2005.
After being honored as the firefighter of the year, Shaffer said she is honored.
“I’m really surprised they chose me at all, let alone to keep being selected up to the national level,” she said. “I’m glad I can represent the department and my crew at this event.”
However, Shaffer said she cannot take all the credit.
“It was a total team effort.” Shaffer said. “My crew members and other firefighters played a big role in this.”