THAYER, Kan. — Swift action combined with years of professional training by firefighters Ryan Felts and David Wolff of the Shawnee Fire Department and firefighter Josh Parrish of the Olathe Fire Department were instrumental in resuscitating an Oklahoma semi-truck driver who was involved in a freak mishap in Thayer on Dec. 12.
According to the Kansas Highway Patrol, David Ryan, 56, of Locust Grove, Okla., was traveling northbound on U.S. 169 when he fell unconscious. His northbound semi veered off the roadway, hit a pickup truck that was parked at the Thayer Fire Station and Thayer City Hall, damaging the fire station building. The semi crossed the street and slammed into a second parked pickup truck in front of the Acorn Valley Custom Cabinet Co. The semi then came to rest after it hit the cabinet company building.
Seconds away from the crash scene were the three Johnson County firefighters, who were southbound on U.S. 169 as they were en route to the Liberty, Kan., area for a weekend of deer hunting. Felts is a native of the Coffeyville-Liberty area and the son of Richard and Shirley Felts of Liberty. Felts and the two other firefighters have made an annual deer hunting trek to the elder Felts’ property near Liberty for the past several years.
Ryan Felts picks up the story:
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“We were southbound on U.S. 169 and noticed a number of people were running across the highway, which we obviously thought was odd. When we came up on the area in front of the Thayer Fire Station, we could see the semi trailer and the crushed pickup truck against the Acorn Valley building. People were gathered around the cab of the semi. We also saw a portion of the Thayer Fire Station was part of the damage path. So, we immediately pulled over and offered assistance.”
Wolff is a captain in the Olathe Fire Department, where he serves as a firefighter/medic. Felts and Wolff are EMT trained.
Because ambulance service was another 15 to 20 minutes from arriving, the three men put their years of training to work. Seeing that the semi-driver was unconscious, they immediately began applying CPR.
Felts, being familiar with the ways of the emergency services and having some knowledge of Thayer, spotted the fire station and ran to it in hopes of locating an automated external defibrillator, or AED, which is standard equipment in many fire stations.
The fire station was empty of personnel as it is staffed by volunteers only during emergencies. Felts searched the several vehicles inside the damaged fire station and found the device. He returned to the crash scene with AED in hand and helped Wolff and Parrish apply the device to the driver.
The AED device allowed Ryan to regain his pulse. By that time, the fire emergency service crews from Chanute had arrived and transported Ryan to Neosho County Memorial Hospital for medical treatment. He was later transferred to another hospital.
The three Johnson County firefighters then returned to their own vehicle and continued their travel to Montgomery County for a weekend of hunting.
“Thank God no one was in those two pickup trucks when the semi hit it,” Felts said. “If there was a good thing that happened, it was that the pickup truck actually absorbed the force of the collision. Had that truck not been parked there in front of the cabinet company, there is a chance the semi would have slammed into the cabinet company building and caused a lot of damage and injuries.”
Felts said the firefighters’ years of emergency services training were instrumental in allowing him, Wolff and Parrish to keep their wits in a time of an emergency.
“This is one of those rare cases where the situation develops in front of your eyes, and the sequence of events progresses,” he said. “In most cases, we are paged out from a fire station and have several minutes to mentally prepare. But, this is a situation where you render the aid as the situation unfolds in front of you. I have to also say that the bystanders in Thayer were very helpful.”
Felts scoffs at the term “hero” and say he, Wolff and Parrish would have done the same thing — regardless of where they were.
“We are just glad to hear there were no injuries to bystanders and that the semi driver was transported to the hospital,” he said.