The Saints of Troy

Then, a call from dispatch. A single-vehicle accident on County Road 606. Pilot Chad Hammond checked the weather. There was a stiff fog rolling in.

Troy University—one year ago. It’s raining hard. The bleachers in Sartain Hall Gymnasium are filling with people.

Outside the gym: a Haynes Life Flight helicopter parked on the pavement. There are fire trucks, police cruisers, and five-hundred acres of ambulances.

They’ve come from Coffee, Pike, Covington, Dale, Elmore, and Montgomery County. They’re here to honor their own.

On the free-throw line are three caskets draped in American flags. Most in attendance wear EMS blues, flight suits, and class-A uniforms. Many are on-call.

There’s an audio recording playing on the sound system. It fills the room with the last radio transmission for Haynes Life Flight 2—which crashed eighty miles south of Montgomery, days earlier.

“November-Nine-One-One-Golf-Foxtrot,” dispatch says to the deceased. “We show you departing with four souls onboard, we’ll take it from here…”

If there are dry eyes in the county, they aren’t living right.

The accident happened during the wee hours of Saturday. The helipad crew at Troy Regional Medical Center was having a quiet night.

Then, a call from dispatch. A single-vehicle accident on County Road 606. Pilot Chad Hammond checked the weather. There was a stiff fog rolling in.

He made a judgment call, then radioed back, saying something like: “Copy that, dispatch, we’ll take it from here.”

The three-person crew loaded supplies, working together like a symphony. First responders are a family. They log twenty-four-hour shifts together, laugh together, cook together, they get on each other’s nerves.

That night, their bird clipped along the Coffee County fog searching for wreckage. They found it. They touched down, loaded the critical patient—Chad probably helped with the stretcher.

“Chad was a helluva a pilot,” says one first-responder. “Lotta pilots don’t help load patients, but he did.”

And it would be his last time.

The funeral is interrupted.

A radio sounds in the back row. It’s loud. A few fire-medics slip out the door. Sirens blare. It’s a noise everyone in this room often hears in their sleep.

When service concludes, a bugle plays “Taps.” Flags get folded. Caskets get loaded by those who’ve lifted one too many stretchers in their time. Emergency vehicles rumble to life.

And lights.

“Should’ve seen them lights,” says one man. “Highway Two-Thirty-One was nothing but red, yellow, and blue when they came into Troy. Never seen lights like that.”

One departing ambulance carries a casket. It gets a full police escort. Miles of highway are lined with fire trucks, peace officers, EMT’s, and civilians who pay respect.

Highway overpasses have flags hanging from them. There are salutes from children, bowed heads from men and women wearing badges and portable radios.

Chad, Stasi, and Jason are gone.

They died heroes. Public servants who lived for something. Something big. They are parents, duck hunters, churchgoers, travelers, and good ole boys. They are first responders. They are saints. But more than that…

They are American.

And they make me so proud it hurts.

15 comments

  1. Catherine - March 25, 2017 11:44 am

    I know what he means about ‘so proud it hurts’. Proud of Americanas.

    Reply
  2. Michael Bishop - March 25, 2017 12:43 pm

    An addendum to your final line: As, by gracious God, they should. Thanks again for spotlighting the saints among us. . . .

    Reply
  3. Pat Byers - March 25, 2017 2:49 pm

    I made it to paragraph six, before the tears came. Sometimes I can get all the way through. I knew today I would not. Yes. Saints. Yes. Heroes. Yes, Americans. Their jobs? They provided service. But. Oh, so much more. And we thank all of you who serve every day. It is important to SAY thank you. In case we forget.

    Reply
  4. Marion Pitts - March 25, 2017 3:15 pm

    So many tears, but not like those folks who knew these highly trained emergency flight medical crew members shed. Peace. Hopefully find some peace.

    Reply
  5. Marion Pitts - March 25, 2017 3:18 pm

    My eyes have watered and shed tears, but not as many like those folks who knew these highly trained emergency flight medical crew members have shed. Peace. Hopefully find some peace.

    Reply
  6. Anna Ehrhardt - March 25, 2017 5:52 pm

    Beautiful. It is a pity that not all see these people as hero’s. I do and I am thankful for them…..each….and….every….day.

    Reply
  7. Laura Young - March 25, 2017 5:53 pm

    Me, too, Sean. Me, too!

    Reply
  8. Susie Munz - March 25, 2017 7:11 pm

    This reminded me of the morning at Sacred Heart Hospital when a rumor was quietly spreading among the staff that Air Heart One had crashed into the Bay. Unfortunately, it was true. It was a rough day for all of us who lost 3 heroes.

    Reply
  9. Susie Munz - March 25, 2017 7:14 pm

    This story reminds me of the sad day when a rumor was quietly spreading among the staff at Sacred Heart Hospital that Air Heart One may have crashed into the bay. Unfortunately, the rumor was true. We tragically lost 3 heroes that day.

    Reply
  10. Pat - March 25, 2017 10:36 pm

    You know how to reach deep down

    Reply
    • Sebie - May 25, 2017 6:25 pm

      Yes, he does. You captured it perfectly.

      Reply
  11. Rees Morrison - March 25, 2017 11:14 pm

    The subject of this wonderful article is unfortunately too familiar for many of us; I merely wish to enhance its meaning, not to detract in any way from the tremendous sacrifice it depicts so well.

    I am reminded of the ceremony honoring my fellow SWAT team member, FBI Special Agent William Christian, Jr. He was executed in his car, during a very large multi-agency surveillance, by an individual who was suspected of killing multiple Police Officers. Subsequently, there was a procession involving hundreds of vehicles, representing all facets of the emergency service fellowship, to Quantico National Cemetery.

    I primarily want to share my vivid memory of the thousands of civilians who stood quietly by the roadside, for almost an hour, paying respect to a friendly man they never knew and the efforts he represented. In particular, I will never forget the hundreds of I-95 highway construction workers, who were also in harm’s way, standing solemly with their hard hats in hand.

    The procession ended as it passed beneath an arch formed by two black draped, fully extended, fire platform trucks. We were brothers and sisters in service, for people who were appreciative.

    Reply
    • Nancy Kane - May 25, 2017 10:43 am

      Thank you for that story. Mr. Christian died a hero. Thanks to all who work to keep us safe!

      Reply
  12. Ardis K - March 26, 2017 2:39 pm

    Sean, a friend of mine shared one of your posts with me this morning. I immediately looked for more. I will be a “forever follower” from this point on. Thank you.

    Reply
  13. Deanna J - May 27, 2017 10:28 pm

    Thank you for your service!

    Reply

Have your say