Off-Duty Navy Fire Inspector Pulls Motorist From Burning Vehicle

June 24, 2021

Naval District Washington (NDW) Fire Inspector Karen Montgomery, assigned to Naval Support Activity South Potomac (NSASP), had just passed through a construction zone June 16 on Chicamuxen Rd. on her way toward Nanjemoy when she noticed an accident along a rough patch of pavement: a SUV was off the road and had impacted a tree on the passenger side.

What started as a seemingly routine accident, however, quickly devolved into a life or death situation. Days later, local first responders and Navy leaders credit Montgomery and two active bystanders for saving the victim’s life.

Montgomery first stopped to block traffic and assess the scene. “Upon approach of the car I noticed damage to driver’s door and light smoke,” she said. “The driver was seat belted and had trauma to his head.”

After instructing a bystander to call 911, Montgomery noticed that smoke from the area around the victim’s seat had become fire. A damaged dash board prevented the victim from escaping. “I grabbed a blanket from the back seat and attempted to smother the fire,” she said. “After the blanket had burned up I started to pull the driver’s door down to get egress.”

A second bystander joined the now-critical effort. “The fire at this point was spreading over the victim,” said Montgomery. “At this time [a second bystander] came up to the scene to assist. I went to the closest vehicle and grabbed the carpet mat then began to swat the fire away from the victim. I ran across the street to grab a bucket of water. The fire was able to melt the seat belt resulting in the ability for us to help maneuver his legs out from the dash and out to the ground.”

After requesting a medivac helicopter, Montgomery and the bystanders grabbed a piece of plywood and used it to move the victim away from the burning vehicle and across the street to safety. Additional bystanders fanned the victim to provide some measure of relief until medical units arrived. The victim was flown to the hospital with severe burns and in critical condition, but alive.

The bystander who helped pull the victim from the car suffered minor burns to his face, while Montgomery received minor burns on her hands, feet and upper body, plus the fire melted her flip flops. Responding firefighters credited Montgomery with saving the victim’s life.

Those who know and work with Montgomery were impressed, but not surprised by the heroics of the 17-year DoD and Navy firefighting veteran.

“What Karen demonstrated that day is nothing short of courageous and proved her willingness to risk injury in order to save the life of another without the protection of personal protective equipment and other lifesaving equipment,” said NSASP District Fire Chief Craig Jackson. “If not for Inspector Montgomery and the other two civilians, the outcome would have surely been worse. I’m not only honored but proud to have her as part of the [Naval Support Facility] Indian Head team. Karen is truly dedicated to her profession and I could not think of a better example than her to show what every employee of NDW Fire and Emergency Services does day in and day out, whether on a government installation or off duty, to protect life and property.”

CAPT Todd Copeland, commanding officer of NSASP, praised Montgomery’s actions as well as the lifesaving that members of her department perform on base and in the community on a regular basis. “Inspector Montgomery is part of a special team at NSF Indian Head,” he said. “The Indian Head Fire and Emergency team have become the guardian angels of Indian Head and Charles County. This team has saved five lives in the last month, delivered a baby during a snow storm, and you have a hero like Karen risking her own life to pull a stranger from a burning car. Her heroic actions occurred while she was off-duty, while she was not protected with protective equipment, and serve as a reminder of what a selfless act really is. As I have said before, these folks are my personal heroes.”

Bravo Zulu, Fire Inspector Montgomery, and best wishes for a speedy recovery.