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Face of Defense: Airman Draws on Training to Help Accident Victim

By Air Force Airman 1st Class Rosemary Gudex, 21st Space Wing

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PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo., Aug. 16, 2016 — Typical weekends in Colorado often find family and friends taking hiking trips, mountain biking, fishing or doing other recreational adventures. On the way back from a fishing trip July 17, a few friends found their lazy Sunday drive turned into a race to save a complete stranger’s life. 

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Staff Sgt. Corey Czajka, 21st Aerospace Medicine Squadron independent duty medical technician, center, prepares to roll a patient onto a long backboard during a training exercise at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., July 28, 2016. Czajka used the same skills practiced during this exercise as a real-world accident a few weeks ago when he stabilized a patient of a vehicle rollover until Colorado Springs paramedics arrived, then continued to assist them. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rose Gudex)
Air Force Staff Sgt. Corey Czajka, an independent duty medical technician with the 21st Aerospace Medicine Squadron, center, prepares to roll a simulated patient onto a long backboard during a training exercise at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., July 28, 2016. Czajka used the same skills he practiced during this exercise as a real-world accident a few weeks ago when he stabilized a patient of a vehicle rollover until Colorado Springs paramedics arrived, then continued to assist them. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rose Gudex
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Staff Sgt. Corey Czajka, 21st Aerospace Medicine Squadron independent duty medical technician, center, prepares to roll a patient onto a long backboard during a training exercise at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., July 28, 2016. Czajka used the same skills practiced during this exercise as a real-world accident a few weeks ago when he stabilized a patient of a vehicle rollover until Colorado Springs paramedics arrived, then continued to assist them. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rose Gudex) Airman draws on training, aids accident victim
Air Force Staff Sgt. Corey Czajka, an independent duty medical technician with the 21st Aerospace Medicine Squadron, center, prepares to roll a simulated patient onto a long backboard during a training exercise at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., July 28, 2016. Czajka used the same skills he practiced during this exercise as a real-world accident a few weeks ago when he stabilized a patient of a vehicle rollover until Colorado Springs paramedics arrived, then continued to assist them. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rose Gudex

Air Force Staff Sgt. Corey Czajka, an independent duty medical technician with the 21st Aerospace Medicine Squadron here, was driving home with his wife and coworker Staff Sgt. Shandy Villani when a vehicle plowed into the intersection, slamming into the car directly in front of theirs.

While the whole scene unfolded in mere seconds, Czajka said it seemed to happen in slow motion -- the impact, the car being pushed through the intersection, the spin, the rollover and ultimately the car landing on its driver’s side.

‘Like a Shotgun Blast’

“You could feel it -- it was like a shotgun blast,” he said. “We saw all the airbags go off in the car and we saw smoke billowing out.”

Czajka immediately sprang to action. He said he parked his vehicle in the median and ran to the overturned vehicle. His medical training kicked in while he accessed the woman’s injuries. There was blood all over, but she was alert and conscious.

“We stabilized the car because it had rolled and was shaky,” he said. “I didn’t want to move her because of a [possible critical spine injury], but there was smoke that we didn’t know where it was coming from, so another guy that came to help pulled her out of the passenger side of the vehicle.”

The woman was carefully moved to the sidewalk at the edge of the road where Czajka immediately began spine stabilization. He says he asked her questions to gauge how coherent she was and monitored her vital signs until Colorado Springs paramedics arrived.

The paramedics recognized the medical expertise and care given to the patient and welcomed the assistance as they prepared her for the trip to the hospital, the airman said.

Importance of Training

Even though Czajka has worked in the medical field for a while and spent three years in an emergency room, he said this was still one of the most hard-hitting accidents he’s seen. Even with the intensity of the scene, he said his training kicked in and he automatically did what he had to do. 

Staff Sgt. Corey Czajka tightens the straps to hold head blocks in place during a long backboard training exercise at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., July 28, 2016. Czajka used his medical training during a recent real-world incident when he kept an injured patient conscious and stable, then continued to assist after paramedics arrived. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rose Gudex
Air Force Staff Sgt. Corey Czajka, an independent duty medical technician with the 21st Aerospace Medicine Squadron, tightens the straps to secure the head blocks on a long backboard during a training exercise at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., July 28, 2016. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rose Gudex
Staff Sgt. Corey Czajka tightens the straps to hold head blocks in place during a long backboard training exercise at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., July 28, 2016. Czajka used his medical training during a recent real-world incident when he kept an injured patient conscious and stable, then continued to assist after paramedics arrived. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rose Gudex

Airman draws on training, aids accident victim
Air Force Staff Sgt. Corey Czajka, an independent duty medical technician with the 21st Aerospace Medicine Squadron, tightens the straps to secure the head blocks on a long backboard during a training exercise at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., July 28, 2016. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rose Gudex

“You didn’t have to think about it, you just did it.” he said. “It wasn’t an [independent duty medical technician] thing, it wasn’t a medic thing. What I did there was no more than what I teach in my [self-aid and buddy care] class.”

Czajka said he had a duty to act, and working alongside the Colorado Springs paramedics in an emergency situation demonstrated the importance of training and working well with a team.

Independent duty medical technicians do more than just work at the clinic on base, the airman said. They are trained in emergency medicine, battlefield medicine, chronic care and more. No matter how much they train or the different scenarios they practice, nothing comes close to a real-world situation, Czajka said.

His extensive training, and the basic first aid techniques taught to every airman, helped Czajka be a hero that day. And even though his selfless actions were lauded by many, he doesn’t think he did anything special that day.

“Am I a hero?” he said. “I think there are people who display the definition of ‘hero’ a lot better than what I did that day.”