Lieutenants act quickly, divert traffic from danger

  • Published
  • By Mark Wyatt
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
The quick actions of two second lieutenants who witnessed a tanker truck flip over a passenger vehicle earlier this summer potentially saved many lives.

Second Lts. Adam Sheridan and David Lam, 2011 graduates of the U.S. Air Force Academy and current members of Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, credit training at the academy and as members of the Air Force as factors contributing to their quick response.

"My supervisor encouraged me to get involved in the UCC (Unit Control Center) when I arrived here," said Lam, AFLCMC contract manager. "I just recently completed my training in emergency management. Understanding the concepts and knowing that an area needs to be cordoned off was a key contributor to our acting so quickly."

Acting quickly was important to ensuring public safety for those passing the accident scene, but also for nearby businesses. When the lieutenants realized the tanker was leaking gallons of gasoline on Route 128, they worked to divert more than 100 cars from a potentially dangerous situation and alerted employees at a nearby hotel for the need to evacuate.

"Everything happened in just a few seconds; it was visually overwhelming just by itself," said Sheridan, Advanced Intelligence Branch program manager. "Immediately making those connections in your brain as what to do next was crucial. We were trying to think a few seconds ahead so that we didn't waste any time."

The incident began July 16 at about 10 p.m. when the lieutenants were driving home from dinner. They witnessed a tanker truck approximately 150 feet ahead of them swerve left then right and hit a passenger car and roll over in a grassy area beyond exit 36.

According to Massachusetts State Police, the car made an attempt to exit the highway from the second travel lane into the rightmost lane. The car was believed to be slowing down to exit the highway, and the tanker truck was unable to stop.

"We jumped into action," said Sheridan. "I called 911 as Lieutenant Lam pulled over just off the exit. As we ran toward the scene to further assess the situation, we were hit with an intense smell of fuel. That's when we knew it was a dangerous situation."

They knew the dangerous situation required immediate action.

"Concerned for public safety, we had to act quickly to mitigate the circumstances to prevent further injury or possibly death for those around us," said Sheridan. "It was clear traffic had to be blocked off and the ramp cleared in order to keep others safe and effectively deliver emergency personnel onto the ramp."

The two stood in the middle of oncoming traffic and redirected vehicles away as nearly 10,000 gallons of fuel -- almost the tanker's entire load -- was rapidly leaking.

"We both used our flashlight apps on our cell phones to divert traffic away," said Lam.

When traffic backed up because of the traffic lights, the pair ran from car to car to alert drivers to relocate and back away from the scene.

"We soon realized that a Hampton Inn was the closest building to the scene, and some of the leaking gas was flowing towards it," said Sheridan. "Lieutenant Lam quickly ran to it and alerted the front desk that there was a tanker leaking fuel."

Emergency responders arrived about 10 minutes after the initial 911 call.

"The first police vehicles on scene assisted victims from the tanker and passenger vehicle. Though both were hurt, neither was seriously injured," Sheridan said. "We continued to control traffic as more police began to arrive and block other areas in danger."

Once adequate resources arrived, the lieutenants were relieved and instructed to evacuate the scene.

Although thankful they had an opportunity to contribute, the Airmen believe it was just being at the right place at the right time.

"We don't think of ourselves as heroes or anything like that," said Lam. "We just did the right thing when we needed to act quickly."