MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A flight nurse with the West Virginia Air National Guard’s 167th Airlift Wing is being hailed a hero for helping to stabilize an accident victim after a vehicle rollover off Interstate 81 earlier this month.
Air Force Capt. Jodi Pritchard, a flight nurse with the Wing’s Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, simply thinks she was in the right place at the right time shortly before noon Dec. 5.
Pritchard was returning to the air base in Martinsburg after making a quick trip to Winchester, Va., to pick up a cheese platter for the unit’s Christmas party which was being held that afternoon.
Driving northbound on I-81, she came upon the accident about two miles south of the Inwood exit in Berkeley County.
Bob Reifsnyder, who was driving southbound on I-81, was one of the first people to stop after seeing the 2004 black SUV Ford Explorer roll over several times in the northbound lanes before disappearing over an embankment.
“It kept rolling over five or 10 times,” he said of the SUV with New York tags.
Reifsnyder said he crossed the highway and offered assistance to the four occupants of the SUV.
When he arrived on the scene there was a young woman in the front passenger’s seat and a three-year-old boy and six-year-old girl strapped in car seats in the back. While the three managed to free themselves from the wreckage, an older woman who was at the wheel of the SUV was pinned behind the steering wheel and dashboard.
The Martinsburg man said that Pritchard arrived and immediately identified herself as a paramedic and began to assist at the scene.
He said Pritchard climbed inside the SUV and assisted the woman who was trapped. He noted that she provided care to the woman before emergency rescue personnel arrived.
“We pried the passenger door open a little more and I slid in and got to the driver,” she said. “The steering wheel and dash were collapsed on her legs.”
The Airman recalled how she tried to calm the woman and reassure her that help was on the way.
After a quick visual assessment of the victim, Pritchard determined that the woman was not suffering from any major injury although she was bleeding from the head.
“I made sure that she was coherent,” Pritchard said. “She complained of her arms hurting.”
The flight nurse said she explained to the woman what was going to happen when the fire department and EMS personnel arrived.
As the Jaws of Life were used to extricate the woman from the wreckage, Pritchard stayed in the SUV and held the woman’s head to stabilize her spine.
“They asked me if I would be okay staying inside (the SUV) while they were cutting the vehicle apart and I said yes,” the flight nurse said.
Pritchard said she knew everyone at the scene from the Berkeley County Fire Company and Berkeley County Emergency Ambulance Authority.
As a flight nurse for PHI AirCare Medevac based in Winchester, Pritchard is no stranger to the local EMS and firefighters as she provides emergency care aboard the Medevac helicopters contracted with the Winchester Medical Center.
After the woman was extricated from the twisted SUV she was taken by ambulance to the hospital in Winchester.
Pritchard said she never knew the woman’s name, but Reifsnyder said he’s sure the accident victim will never forget how a member of the local Air National Guard came to her rescue in a time of personal crisis.
“The woman was very grateful to Capt. Pritchard,” Reifsnyder said.
And he himself called the young flight nurse “a credit to the Air Force and the community.”
Reifsnyder said Pritchard’s quick actions gave him a firsthand glimpse into how Guardsmen are trained to respond at a moment’s notice to a crisis. Pritchard has been a member of the 167th Airlift Wing since February 1998.
“I just can’t say enough about what she did to help that woman who was trapped,” he said.
For her part, Pritchard said the real heroes are the Berkeley County EMS and firefighters who respond to accident scenes on a daily basis.
“They were phenomenal in their performance that afternoon,” she said. “They are true professionals 100 percent.”
Trooper T.W. Cook, the investigating officer at the accident scene from the West Virginia State Police, said Pritchard was assisting EMS stabilizing the driver inside the SUV when he arrived.
“It’s nice to see people care enough to stop when they see people in need,” Cook said.