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News | April 13, 2021

Sergeant Sánchez: A firefighter’s journey to recovery

By Senior Airman Chun Jiang 612th Air Base Squadron

On one of his days off from duty, traveling from the city of La Esperanza to Gracias, in the department of Lempira, Honduras, Sergeant Brian Sánchez, a firefighter with the Gracias Lempira Fire Department was involved in an auto accident. While stuck underneath the overturned vehicle, he lost consciousness. Local search and rescue officers and passersby spent hours using all available resources to lift the vehicle to rescue him. He was then taken in the back of a pickup truck to the nearest medical facility. Upon arrival at the hospital, doctors determined he required immediate brain surgery - a service that is not available in a town that small. A decision was quickly made to transport him to the Medical Center in Tegucigalpa.  

As they began the perilous journey, the lack of oxygen and resources onboard made his vital signs slowly drain away as they sped towards the capital. A desperate call for help was sent out to all agencies in Honduras. Due to the proximity of Soto Cano Air Base, Joint Task Force-Bravo was able to answer the call to immediately provide emergency medical evacuation and airlift him to the hospital. The JTF-B medical team and U.S. Army pilots assigned to the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment quickly made arrangements to transport him, shortening the three-hour journey to just 30 minutes. 

After an eight-hour surgery, he was stabilized but remained in a coma. Doctors warned his family that although he survived the surgery, he might not be able to walk again.

“My mother was absolutely devastated when she was told by the doctor her son may never walk or be able to feed himself again without assistance,” said Sánchez. “Before the accident, I was the provider for my family, yet now I feel as if I am their anchor. My biggest motivation for recovery was to be able to return to work to provide for them.”

After spending 14 days in a coma, he slowly pushed himself through the recovery process with the goal of returning to work. With persistence and therapy, he recovered after 8 months and was finally able to walk without assistance again.

“I would like to say thank you very much for everything you [JTF-B] do, your professional skills, your dedication, and your professionalism. I hope to be part of the teamwork that will help someone else the same way the pilots and medical team saved my life. Without your help, I would never have made it and be here today,” said Sánchez 

As a firefighter, Sánchez was able to participate in this year’s first iteration of exercise CENTAM SMOKE, a multinational and biannual exercise typically conducted with firefighters from all across Central America and hosted by U.S. Airmen assigned to the 612th Air Base Squadron at Soto Cano Air Base.

“I am so thankful today to be back at Soto Cano and to be part of CENTAM SMOKE. It was a miracle that I managed to recover from the injuries that I had,” said Sánchez. “I hope to learn from the training and teach others at my department everything I learned, and to use the search and rescue skills to help others. This is very important because some of the training facilities may not be available in many of our respective home stations.” 

Sánchez hopes to show videos and techniques from his training to expand rescue knowledge and capabilities within his squadron and encourage more firefighters from Central America to participate in the next CENTAM SMOKE. The knowledge acquired through this exercise will greatly benefit firefighter rescue abilities, as the region is very susceptible to natural disasters. This joint training also provides an opportunity for participants to share experiences, and learn new techniques and creative thinking by engaging in unique scenarios that strengthen partnerships and regional capabilities, preparing U.S. and Central American firefighters to be able to respond as a team to a real world disaster.