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Always serving: Airman saves train accident victims

First Responder of the Year

Tech. Sgt. Matt Gormely, 81st Security Forces Squadron resource advisor, holds his Biloxi First Responder of the Year award at the 81st SFS building, Sept. 27, 2017, on Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. Gormely was recently presented the award for being a first responder to a train accident in Biloxi on March 7, 2017 where he provided medical aid to seven elderly civilians and helped preserve the safety of more than 39 victims. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Holly Mansfield)

First Responder of the Year

First responders from Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi and the city of Bilox, stabilize and treat patients who were involved in a train accident near Keesler AFB, March 7, 2017. Tech. Sgt. Matt Gormely, 81st Security Forces Squadron, was one of the first on the scene to help treat and care for patients. (Courtesy photo)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- March 7, 2017, started out just like any normal work day at the 81st Security Forces Squadron, by Tech. Sgt. Matt Gormely’s account.

A couple minutes after getting off his shift, his ordinary day turned into pure chaos filled with a panicking call for help over the police department radio from a Biloxi police officer.

“I had just gotten done with my shift at work and the other flight chief and I were in the patrolman’s office where we have a radio that’s tuned to the Biloxi Police Department’s frequency,” said Gormely, 81st SFS resource advisor. “We heard a call come over the radio and we could hear the distress in the officer’s voice. He was calling for anybody and everybody to come help at a train accident that happened off base.”

With one look at his fellow 81st SFS Airman, Tech. Sgt. Eric Goebel, the pair was running out the door to respond to the distress call. The sheer magnitude of the train accident threw Gormely into shock once they were on-scene.

“The train accident wasn’t hard to find,” said Gormely. “I went up to where the incident was, asked for a pair of medical gloves and then we just dove in. The whole scene was a mess. There were injured people everywhere just like you would picture an emergency scene like that to be. It was controlled chaos.”

From the sight of the bodies to the sounds of the response vehicles, the train accident was like nothing he had ever seen before, said Gormely.

“In my 19 years of being in the Air Force, I’ve never responded to something of this magnitude,” said Gormely. “I’ve seen improvised explosive devices overseas but nothing like that over here stateside. The most shocking part was the people who were killed there instantly. They were virtually unrecognizable.”

Using the training he received in security forces, like combat life saver training, he was able to not only respond to the fatal incident but also assist local first responders with diagnosing patients with severe injuries.

“There was a woman who kept complaining that her side was hurting,” said Gormely. “I touched her leg to see where the pain was coming from and the higher I got the more pain she said she felt. When I touched her hip she yelled so I grabbed one of the Keesler [Air Force Base] paramedics that came to help and we got her in an ambulance. After that, it became a blur; taking a patient to an ambulance and then going back into the scene to help more people.”

Gormely was recently given the Biloxi First Responder of the Year award for helping save the lives of three critical status patients and minimizing further injury to four other patients with non-life threatening injuries during the train accident. By responding to the incident, he was a contributor in performing triage and transporting 39 victims in under 70 minutes.

“We are beyond proud of Gormely and his actions that day,” said Master Sgt. Jason Burdett, 81st SFS first sergeant. “As someone coming from outside the career field, it is fascinating to see all of these individuals from different backgrounds and demeanors on a daily basis, but when the time comes to utilize their training, they are unbelievably effective, competent, caring and selfless. Gormely's actions during the accident just exemplify those traits. Submitting him as our first responder of the year was a no brainer and it is well deserved!”

The security forces career field is full of selfless individuals willing to run toward the fight and service before self was on full display in this case, said Burdett. I believe if it were any other defender they would have reacted the same way and I have seen examples of it in my short time with this squadron. I think that attribute is what makes these men and women so special day in and day out and Gormely is no exception.

“We sit there and listen to the radio a couple hours each day and it’s usually guys writing speeding tickets but every now and then you get something that’s urgent and the whole tone of their voice elevates,” said Gormely. “This is my job. This is what I’m trained to do. It didn’t seem like anything extraordinary at the time. I just rushed to try to do everything I could to help the people in need.”
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