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Air Commando recognized as Trusted Care Hero

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla., -- “My main goal was to keep him alive. I knew every time I stopped, his chances of living were slimmer and slimmer,” said Senior Airman Brandon Culpan, a health service management journeyman with the 1st Special Operations Medical Group.

The day began when Culpan was returning from leave and preparing for an 11-and-a-half-hour drive. While stocking up on energy drinks and snacks at a gas station in his hometown, Culpan saw clouds of black smoke off in the distance, but thought nothing of it.

“Around there, burning tires is common,” he said. “I don’t know why, but it’s just something they do down there. I saw a bunch of black smoke and didn’t think twice about it.”

Two miles into Culpan’s drive toward Hurlburt Field, he happened to approach the plumes of black smoke. As he rounded a bend in the road, he peered out of the window to make sure it was just tires burning. Instantly he knew this was a serious situation. Amidst flames, smoke and downed power lines was an 18-wheeler.

Culpan’s breaks screeched as he stomped the pedal to the floor, jumped out of his car and sprinted to the wreckage.

The sound of frantic chatter surrounded the big-rig. The voices of men speaking broken English could not be interpreted, yet the essence of their words was understood.

“Estás bien? Estás bien?,” said one the men from around the 18-wheeler.

Seeing no one in immediate danger, Culpan believed everyone was safe, until one of the gentlemen urged him to look toward the big-rig.

A gust of wind swept away the clouds of black smoke and revealed a man pinned between two tires in the rear of the 18-wheeler.

Fallen power lines cracked with electric current and the thoughts of an impending explosion were on Culpan’s mind as he, without a second thought, ran to rescue the man laboring to free himself.

“I tell my wife it was a ‘black-out’ situation,” Culpan said. “I realized what was going on and knew this man was in danger. I don’t know if it was adrenaline, but I went over and attempted to pull him out.”

After a several brute-strength heaves to release the man held captive by flaming tires, Culpan was able to pull the man to safety and begin administering CPR.

“As soon as I pulled him, maybe 10 to 15 feet, the first explosion happened,” Culpan said. “[This] rocked the trailer and caused the power line to come down.”

Within five to 10 minutes of administering CPR, a shockwave interrupted the surrounding area – a loud blast that could knock a man to the floor. An explosion rocked the trailer again and caused two more power lines to swing to the ground with zapping energy.

With the sound of debris crumbling to the floor and dust settling to the ground, Culpan recognized the man needed evacuation immediately. Culpan yanked off his t-shirt and enveloped the man in cloth to pull him to safety.

Again, Culpan continued CPR to breathe life into his lungs.

“About that time the third explosion happened,” Culpan said. “The explosion severed two more power lines that came within two feet of me.”

After the final explosion, Culpan moved the man again and continued administering CPR for about 45 minutes until help had arrived.

“When the ambulance arrived I gave them a brief run-down of everything that happened and everything that I did,” he said.

Finally, Culpan had a chance to catch his own breath and recall what just happened in the past 45 minutes. That break in thought was short-lived.

“Within five to 10 minutes of watching [the first-responders] and watching the rig continue to burn, it hit. The fact that I lost him right in my hands.”

Culpan’s leadership said his character is what led him to perform the heroic actions on that day, and for that reason he is qualified to be considered a Trusted Care Hero.

“I wasn’t surprised at all [that Culpan risked his life to save another],” said Maj. Elizabeth Duffy-Milmo, a flight commander with the 1st Special Operations Medical Group. “Culpan is one of those [Airmen] that is always ready to get in there and do something.”