432nd WG firefighter saves life in-flight, awarded for valor

  • Published
  • By Robert Brooks
  • 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing

It’s a firefighter’s day-to-day to answer the call when an emergency hits. 

For John Orosz, 432nd Support Squadron fire emergency services captain, it isn’t any different. A firefighter and emergency medical technician of 15 years, he has been trained to be prepared for the unexpected.

However, emergencies don’t only happen while on-duty.  

In March of 2020, Orosz and his family boarded a commercial airline flight to return home after visiting family.

During the flight, Orosz’s attention was pulled by the sound of a shaky voice over the intercom. A flight attendant, audibly upset, was pleading for anyone onboard with medical experience to come forward.  

Without hesitation, Orosz and his wife, Cassandra, a nurse practitioner, moved to the front of the airplane where flight attendants were gathered around a female passenger. 

“Once I got to her, I could see, she was in respiratory distress, with shallow breathing, very short broken speech and low blood pressure,” Orosz said.  “She was perspiring profusely as well as having a weak rapid pulse and massive amounts of swelling in the feet.” 

Orosz sat beside her and introduced himself, aiming to keep her at ease while he checked her vital signs.  

Next, he assessed the aisle. It would be difficult to assist her, or make her comfortable, while she sat cramped in her window-seat; he decidedly requested nearby passengers to move to other seats to better control her care. 

“I motioned for the flight attendants to bring out medicine, oxygen, first aid kits, as well as set up a bag valve mask to track the patient's breathing in case her condition continued to get worse,” Orosz explained. 

However, before he took action, Orosz began to delve into her medical history. A travel companion was able to give him a rundown of recent procedures and required medications. 

First thing first, he recalled, level out her blood sugar and get her to take her medications. 

Without being able to check her blood sugar content, Orosz requested small snacks and beverages to elevate blood sugar without overwhelming his patient. The flight attendant brought some water, orange juice and peanut butter to Orosz, who then helped the passenger take these with her medication.

The next step was regulating her breathing, which remained labored despite the use of a bag-valve mask. 

To increase the flow of oxygen, he moved to a non-rebreather mask, and proceeded to make an unexpected request. 

In addition to being a full-time fireman, Orosz is also a trained pilot and used his knowledge of cabin pressure to the passenger’s aid. With the female passenger’s breathing shallow, and limited medical equipment on board, Orosz requested the pilots to fly at a lower altitude to increase the oxygen level in the cabin. 

“Routine emergency medical training and years of experience gave Orosz the skills needed to provide the proper care,” said Ramon Fitzgerald, 432nd Support Squadron fire chief.   “His ability to remain calm during intense situations is only one of his great strengths.” 

For the rest of the flight, Orosz continued to monitor the passenger’s vitals and helped keep her calm through light conversation about family.  The oxygen and assisted respiration had improved the passenger’s outlook, and the food and drink helped improve the patient’s level of awareness.  

Because her condition improved, Orosz was able to recommend to the pilots not to divert for an emergency landing, and continue to their scheduled destination.

Upon landing in Las Vegas, her care was relinquished to an emergency medical response team.  Orosz recalls feeling confident that the woman’s condition was stable and she was in good hands.

Looking back, Orosz felt thankful to have been in the right place at the right time. 

A few months later, after having settled back into the daily grind at Creech Air Force Base, Orosz was presented with the Command Civilian Award for Valor by Col. Stephen Jones, 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing commander, Oct. 2, 2020. 

“As firefighters, we are faced with a variety of stressful situations, on and off duty.  Each emergency presents levels of complexity and requires us to make life altering decisions,” said James Drake, 432nd Support Squadron assistant fire chief of operations. “Orosz’s reaction to the situation on the plane was an example of how he approaches each emergency he is faced with while on duty.  He heard the need and answered the call.”