29th TSS member helps save friend's life

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Samuel King Jr.
  • 53d Wing Public Affairs
Quick thinking and keeping calm. 

These are just two of the quality traits used by Master Sgt. Michael Carlton, 29th Test Systems Squadron, Nov. 6 when he helped save his friend's life after an accident.
Sergeant Carlton was helping his friend, Tom Petoskey, clear off some land during his day off. Sergeant Carlton was moving dirt with a tractor and Tom was operating an excavator. (An excavator is a vehicle that consists of an articulated arm, bucket and cab mounted on a set of moving tracks.)

"I was looking over my shoulder as I was backing up and saw a tree go right through the cab of the excavator," said Sergeant Carlton.

Tom had picked up the tree, which was approximately 35 inches in circumference, with the excavator to move it, but the tree slipped out and fell toward the cab. Tom, sensing the impact, tried to stand up and move to the back of the excavator's cab, but when he did, he pushed a pedal causing the machine to move forward. The tree moved with the machine going through the front of the cab.

"When I saw the tree go through the cab, I expected the worst," said Sergeant Carlton.

The tree pinned Tom into the cab of the excavator by his lower thigh and had broken the controls.

"There was no way for me to move (the tree) by myself," said the 41-year-old sergeant. "It was very large and wedged in the cab and in the ground."

After Sergeant Carlton checked Tom for other injuries, he called 911.

"I was pretty calm considering," said Tom. "I think the only reason I wasn't freaking out was because Mike was calm. He knew what he was doing."

After talking with emergency operators and providing directions, Sergeant Carlton checked on Tom again.

"My biggest concern was the excavator was still running, but the controls were broken," said the sergeant, who provides technical support to simulator program managers throughout the 53d Wing. "Any inadvertent move would cause the machine to move and it was stuck in gear."

He was able to locate the key switch behind Tom's pinned leg and shut the excavator off.

Sergeant Carlton then took a farm vehicle up to the road to help guide the medical crew and fire department to the site of the accident. He also called their spouses to let them know what had happened.

After the paramedics arrived, Sergeant Carlton helped out where he could. The "jaws of life" system failed to move the tree off of Tom's leg. So the responders asked Sergeant Carlton to assist.

"They had me get some chains and bring the tractor over to the excavator to see if I could move the tree with the bucket," said the Vermont native.

Sergeant Carlton said that didn't work either so they brought out a chainsaw.

Although the chain got hung up in the tree, it moved enough to release the pressure on Tom's leg. Once the pressure was released, the leg began to bleed profusely according to Sergeant Carlton.

The Emergency Medical Technician was having a lot of trouble dislodging his foot from between the seat and the tree to get him out of the cab, said 16-year veteran who also served in the Navy. So he reached in and freed his leg up so Tom could be extracted.

Tom, who had received morphine for the pain, was removed from the back window of the excavator and placed on top of the machine until he was stabilized.

"I didn't get scared until they got the tree off, and I saw my leg," said Tom. "That's when the panic hit."

Once stable, Sergeant Carlton helped the EMTs get him to the gurney and off to the hospital in Pensacola.

Tom is still recovering from the accident, but the leg wasn't broken. After multiple surgeries due to excess fluid and dead tissue, he is expected to make a full recovery.

"Before the latest surgery, I was already hobbling around on it," said Tom.

Tom also expressed how glad he was Sergeant Carlton showed up that day. Sergeant Carlton echoed that sentiment.

"I was very glad I decided to go over to help him out," said the father of two. "He could have been stuck in the excavator for many hours before anyone checked on him. The excavator would've been running, so when they (his family) did come home they might have just assumed he was still working."