As seen in the Herald-Citizen
Sean Ochsenbein never thought his actions would be worthy of a presidential medal, but those actions ended up saving a person’s life, earning him the Medal of Valor.
Oschenbein is one of 12 recipients of the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor for 2015-2016.
Feb. 3, 2016, Oschenbein and his then-fiancee were headed to Johnson City from a ski vacation and came upon a head-on collision resulting in a fire.
“Having seen hundreds of motor vehicles accidents and being called to the worst as a vehicle extrication technician, I was fully aware of the severity of the accident,” he said. “In the first responders community, the worst kind of motor vehicle accident is one in which the patients are trapped in the car and the vehicle is on fire.”
Ochsenbein went to the first car and found the victim deceased. Then he went to the second vehicle and found the driver responsive, but trapped.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’m not going to sit here and watch a man burn alive,'” he said.
Lt. William Buchanan of the Avery County, North Carolina, Sheriff’s Department helped Ochsenbein free the victim.
“We tried to get the door open, but it wouldn’t budge,” Ochsenbein said.
Trained as a vehicle extrication instructor for the state of Tennessee, he took action.
“I remembered that I had a giant ratchet tow strap in my SUV,” he said. “I hooked it up to my vehicle while Buchanan hooked it to the other vehicle, and the door popped. We ran up and started pulling the victim from the car, and he came loose.”
He vividly remembers fire coming out of the vehicle’s air vents.
“We had less than a minute before the car would explode,” he said.
The medical school graduate credits his training and mentorship with the Putnam County Rescue Squad for his actions.
“Without their training and mentorship of the incredible leaders in the squad, I would have never known how to act in such a situation,” he said. “I feel blessed to be a part of such a wonderful organization.”
He also credits his time with the Putnam County Ambulance Service in how to treat patients in stressful situations.
“These two organizations should receive credit for this award,” he said. “I was just acting on the training they provided me.”
Putnam County Rescue Squad Captain Stanley VanHooser calls Oschenbein a true volunteer who loves helping people.
“He’s been with us since 2008,” VanHooser said. “As soon as he gets a break or a week or two off (from medical school), he comes back and calls as soon as he hits the county line, saying he’s available for call and will stop by the station and grab a pager,” he said.
Oschenbein moved to Cookeville with his family in 1995. He attended Capshaw Elementary School, graduated from Cookeville High School and Tennessee Tech. He graduated from East Tennessee State’s Quillen College of Medicine May and is currently in residency at Wake Forest specializing in emergency medicine.
Rescue Squad Assistant Chief David Anderson nominated Oschenbein for the award.
“He’s always willing to help out when he’s in town,” Anderson said.
Buchanan was also nominated by the Avery County Sheriff and one of the 12 recipients.
A date for the award presentation for Oschenbein and Buchanan has not been set.
The Medal of Valor was created by Congress in 2001 and is the highest national award for valor by a public safety officer. An act of valor is defined as above and beyond the call of duty and exhibiting exceptional courage, extraordinary decisiveness and presence of mind and unusual swiftness of action, regardless of his or her personal safety in an attempt to save or protect human life.