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Face of Defense: Guardsman Aids Injured at Indiana State Fair

By Army Sgt. John Crosby
120th Public Affairs Detachment

INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 17, 2011 – An Indiana Air National Guardsman leaped into action to help others here Aug. 13 when a concert stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair, killing five people and injuring at least 40 others.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Master Sgt. James Stranahan was in the third-row stands when a stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair, Aug. 13, 2011, in Indianapolis. The Indiana Air National Guard member and many others stepped in to give aid to the injured. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. John Crosby

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Air Force Master Sgt. James Stranahan of Shelburn, Ind., assigned to the 53rd Civil Support Team, was in the third row of the stands when the stage collapsed onto about 50 people. He jumped over the guard rail and took action.

Stranahan, a senior medic, triaged, treated and helped to evacuate more than a dozen injured people. Having responded to mass casualty situations before on deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, the tragedy at the fair hit very close to home.

“In the military, there’s always that potential [for death or injury],” Stranahan said. “But, an accident of this magnitude, it’s tough. I’m an older guy; I feel like I can handle it. I feel bad for those kids that have to live with this memory for the rest of their lives.”

Stranahan has more than 29 years in the military, including more than 20 years in the Indiana Army and Air National Guard. His mission with the 53rd CST is to respond to civil emergencies, from natural disasters to attacks from weapons of mass destruction.

Stranahan attended the fair with this girlfriend, he said, noting they’d watched the opening act from the sand pit located just in front of the stage. Stranahan and his girlfriend returned to their seats after the opening act, he said.

About 30 minutes later, tragedy struck. Stranahan described the strong and sudden 60-mph gust of wind that collapsed the stage.

“Within just a few minutes, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped,” Stranahan said. “I could see just a wall of dust and debris tear through the Ferris wheel.”

Stranahan said the wind then hit the stage, causing it to fall within seconds.

“With all my military training, and the medical side, I knew I needed to spring into action to help these injured people,” he said.

“After the collapse of the stage, we started using whatever we could to help evacuate the casualties out from underneath the stage. We used the chairs that were knocked down -- we folded them up and used them as litters. Guys were cutting pieces of tarp, taking pieces of the collapsed stage -- whatever they could find -- to help these injured people.”

Stranahan said he and others worked for more than an hour through the storm to try to help as many people as they could. He treated head wounds, lacerations, broken bones and other injuries, and said he was amazed by the multitude of bystanders who stepped forward. Doctors, nurses, and service members sprang into action to aid the injured, he said.

“It was very gratifying to me, being military and me being a Hoosier, to see so many people come together so quickly from all different walks of life to help save those injured folks,” Stranahan said.

Stranahan’s enlisted supervisor praised his actions at the fair.

“His many experiences range from deploying for Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield, Operation Iraqi Freedom, to responding to Hurricane Katrina,” said Army 1st Sgt. Tyson Johnson, 53rd CST. “All of this contributes to his immediate responsible reaction to the incident at the fairgrounds.”


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