By 2nd Lt. Brooke Betit, 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 21, 2014
LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va -- U.S Air Force 2nd Lt. Quianna Samuels, 633rd Medical Group Labor and Delivery clinic registered nurse, was recognized in a Portraits in Courage ceremony held by Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Cody at the Women's Memorial in Arlington, Va., Feb. 5 for her acts of valor during a chemical plant explosion.
The Portraits in Courage series highlights the extraordinary acts of Airmen who put their lives on the line to save others during dangerous situations.
"Our Airmen are faced with situations like this each and every day around the globe," wrote Air Force Chief of Staff Mark A. Welsh III and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody in the eighth volume's preface. "Each of them has their own story...They believe in integrity, in service, in excellence and are ready and willing to go in harm's way."
Selected as one of 22 Airmen for the eighth volume of Portraits in Courage, Samuels joins an elite group of 175 Airmen who have been recognized for their acts of valor and sacrifice in the face of danger.
At the ceremony, the awardees attended a luncheon during which the Air Force Chief of Staff Civic Leader Program recognized the individualss and gave them an opportunity to recount their actions during those dangerous situations.
The following is Lt. Samuels' story:
Then an Air Force ROTC cadet,Samuels was heading home after Leadership Laboratory, an ROTC class. She had stopped for dinner with fellow cadets, Alison Norlander and Ashlyn McNeely when an explosion shook the ground. Flames and dark plumes of smoke shot into the sky, enveloping an area only a mile or two from the cadets' location.
Unknown to the women, the explosion had originated at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, causing 15 deaths, hundreds of injuries and a wide-scale evacuation of the town.
Instead of evacuating the area, the three nursing students ran towards the explosion.
Although Samuels felt turmoil as she ran, the training she received in the ROTC detachment at Baylor University kicked in, helping her adapt quickly to the situation.
"I had reservations running towards that black cloud," SamueIs said. "I had just received my RN license, and the other two cadets were still nursing students. But when I saw my wingmen running, I knew we were going to deal with whatever the situation was."
As they approached the area, utter chaos greeted them. Fires and a dense black smoke consumed the surrounding neighborhood.
"You could feel the heat from the fires on your skin, but you couldn't see two feet in front of you," Samuels said.
The cadets assessed the situation and began providing first responder care.
"Nothing can prepare you for the real thing," she said. "But during our training, we covered a similar situation where we had to deal with mass casualties."
People poured out of damaged houses, bleeding from the shattered glass of imploded windows.
"I presented a calm outward appearance. I kept my feelings inside and focused on reacting with a purpose," she said. "I just kept checking the rest of the neighborhood, seeing if anyone needed help."
Samuels made her way to a nursing home damaged by the blast. She began working with other first responders to evacuate and care for the residents.
"The nursing home was hit badly by the explosion," Samuels said. "There was one man who had a bad abdominal wound. He threw up while we were trying to move him. We knew the best thing would be to get him to the main site."
The main treatment site was a football field roughly a mile from the nursing home. As first responders worked to put patients in trucks heading to the field, another complication arose, urging the responders to move faster.
"A woman told me she smelled gas," she said. "I knew we had to get out of the area quickly before there was another explosion."
Fortunately, Samuels and other first responders were able to move all the patients to the football field. When she arrived to the treatment site, the scale of the situation sank in.
"The field was completely covered with people being treated or waiting for treatment," she said. "People had injuries ranging from superficial cuts to broken bones. The responders had the less-injured people lined up in rows on one side of the field, and mats set up for people they were still trying to stabilize on the other."
For more than four hours, the future Air Force officers moved, stabilized and treated patients until they realized there was nothing more they could do.
"The rescue personnel had the situation in hand," Samuels said. "We headed back to the car and drove to the nearest hospital."
The cadets were treated for smoke and chemical inhalation, and McNeely was treated for a broken ankle.
After the event, Samuels analyzed her and her fellow cadets' actions under pressure.
"It was hard seeing so many injured people," she said. "But seeing the other cadets in action gave me assurance in our abilities. We had been training to be RNs. That incident made me realize that we were capable."
Samuels' and her fellow cadets' actions received accolades from her detachment and most recently, the Air Force Chief of Staff and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force. Despite the recognition, Samuels remains humble.
"I did what I could," she said. "I think that's a mindset a lot of people in the military and medical field have. We're not heroes. We just do what we can to help."
Now a lieutenant, Samuels currently works at the Labor and Delivery department at Langley Air Force Base and finds the job very rewarding.
"When you deliver a child and see a family meet the child they've been waiting for, it's very precious," Samuels said. "The minute you hand the mother her child and you see them connect...that's why I chose this department."
The explosion and repercussions have stayed with Samuels, but the event has also driven her to do her best tocontinue to support the Air Force mission.
"I always wanted to be in the medical field," she said. ". I wholeheartedly believe what I do impacts the mission all the time."