SFS members show valor close to home
By Staff Sgt. Benjamin Rojek, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 21, 2008
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- (Editor's note: Staff Sgt. Jason Brown and retiring Tech. Sgt. James Dusenberry were awarded the Medal of Valor at a ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley on April 19. The two 30th Security Forces Squadron members saved the life of a California Highway Patrol officer in December. The following story is the account of the incident in which they earned the medal.)
"I thought I was back in the streets of Baghdad," said the Vandenberg Airman. "You had people lying out, you had trucks on fire ... it took a second to realize I'm in California, not in Baghdad."
That realization did not dampen his adrenaline, however; there were lives yet to save.
On Dec. 19, 2007, Staff Sgt. Jason Brown was driving south on Highway 101 with Tech. Sgt. James Dusenberry. The NCOs were en route to Los Angeles International Airport to pick up fellow 30th Security Forces Squadron members who were returning from a training mission.
The hum-drum drive changed quickly, though, as they came around a curve just south of Santa Barbara. Sergeant Dusenberry noticed a plume of smoke, realizing there was an accident ahead in the northbound lanes.
"As we rounded a corner, first thing we saw was a vehicle on fire," Sergeant Dusenberry said. "So we hit the lights and we pulled up."
The security forces members grabbed a fire extinguisher, jumped the median and negotiated the debris to find an SUV engulfed in flames. According to a press release from the California Highway Patrol, a pickup truck had drifted onto the shoulder and struck the stopped SUV.
"I've responded to a lot of accidents in my career and as far as physical damage to vehicles, that was the worst scene I've ever seen," Sergeant Dusenberry said. "Damage from those vehicles was spread out probably a quarter-mile down the road."
A couple of civilians were already on the scene. As Sergeants Brown and Dusenberry ran up, they were told someone was still in the burning vehicle.
"Somebody handed me a fire extinguisher and (Brown) had one and we tried to knock the flames down in the vehicle, but it was just too engulfed at the time and we couldn't get close enough to it," Sergeant Dusenberry said.
Once they realized there was actually no one in the burning vehicle, they shifted their attention to taking care of those involved in the accident. There were two people wandering around who had been in the truck and the man who had been in the SUV was lying on the ground. While Sergeant Dusenberry got the two young people to sit down, civilian bystanders began CPR on the driver of the SUV.
"At that time another individual ran up to us and said they believed there was a police officer involved in the accident," Sergeant Brown said. "I looked around and didn't notice any squad cars or anything, so I asked him if he had a direction."
About 50 feet north of the accident scene they found CHP Officer Tony Pedeferri. The CHP report states that Officer Pedeferri had stopped the SUV and was standing on the right side of it when the pickup made impact. He was struck and propelled into the ditch.
Sergeant Brown jumped into the ditch and began using self-aid buddy care training and combat lifesaver training he had recently received as part of his 14-month deployment to Iraq. He was able to assess that, although he was unresponsive, Officer Pedeferri was alive. He used his cell phone to call in this information to 911 dispatch.
"The training that I had for the deployment was essential," Sergeant Brown said. "We were using it out there on deployments, but I never would have thought I would be doing this back here to that extent."
At the same time, Sergeant Dusenberry was in contact with CHP through the police officer's radio on his motorcycle. The CHP credited the relaying of real-time information by the two NCOs as a key factor in saving Officer Pedeferri's life - CHP was able to quickly dispatch first responders as well as two Life Flight helicopters. Unfortunately, the driver of the SUV was pronounced dead at the scene.
As the smoke cleared and the sun set, Sergeant Dusenberry had a moment to reflect. He didn't know he and Sergeant Brown would be called heroes, he didn't know they would soon be awarded the Medal of Valor - the highest award given to law enforcement officers. All he knew was fellow police officer Tony Pedeferri had almost died in the line of duty.
"He was injured doing his job, serving the state, serving the country protecting people," he said. "It takes a lot of strength to survive what he survived and to hang on."
Although both Team V members say their actions were nothing more than acting on instinct, the CHP puts it in a higher regard.
"They definitely went above and beyond to pull over and render aid to not only involved parties, but also our officer, who was severely injured," said Officer Shawna Davison, CHP public affairs officer. "We want them to know their efforts did not go unnoticed by the Highway Patrol."