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Recruiter wins 2007 Pitsenbarger Award for saving crash victim

  • Published
  • By Chet DelSignore
  • Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs
The Air Force Sergeants Association named Staff Sgt. Robert Payne, a recruiter assigned to the 318th Recruiting Squadron at Bala Cynwyd, Pa., as its 2007 Pitsenbarger Award winner.

The Pitsenbarger Award annually recognizes Air Force enlisted members who perform heroic acts, on or off duty, that result in saving a life or preventing serious injury.

On Aug. 11, 2006, Sergeant Payne proved his mettle when he came across a violent two-car crash at 7 a.m. on a rural road while driving to a field recruiting office appointment. He immediately stopped to render aid.

As he approached the most damaged vehicle, it exploded into flames. In spite of the heat from the fire and toxic smoke, Sergeant Payne raced to rescue the male occupant, whom he found breathing but unconscious.

"The wave of heat and the explosion reminded me of trying to ignite a propane grill and it not starting right away, so the propane builds up and bursts," he said. "I didn't have much time to react and felt immediate distress to open the driver side door, which was crushed shut."

After struggling to pull the victim to a safe location through a window lined with shards of broken glass, Sergeant Payne swiftly began applying first aid, only moderately aware he had burned his own left wrist on the car's hot metal door.

With the reality that emergency help wouldn't come quickly to the rural location, Sergeant Payne called 9-1-1 on his cell phone and asked for a life-flight aeromedical helicopter to dispatch to the scene.

"I kept reminding myself that I had to do the best I could do because it was just me, and the ambulance wouldn't arrive for a long while," he said. "At this point I felt extreme frustration, knowing this man probably would not live if he didn't receive help soon."

While 30 minutes passed before firefighters arrived, Sergeant Payne vigilantly cared for the disabled motorist.

"It's not surprising that he performed such a selfless act," said Tech. Sgt. Chad Staggs, the recruiter's supervisor. "He's kind-hearted and very focused on all that he does."

Sergeant Payne was later praised for his heroic act by local civilian authorities and rescue personnel as the key to saving the life of the injured man, who is still recovering from his severe injuries.

"I can only hope that if someone I loved was in the same situation, someone would be there for them," Sergeant Payne said.
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