Emergency preparedness runs in the family

A couple of weeks ago, we shared a story about Daniel Konzelman, a 24-year-old Eagle Scout who helped rescue passengers after a deadly Amtrak train derailment in DuPont, Wash.

We caught up with Konzelman and discovered that the Dec. 18 tragedy wasn’t the first emergency he or his four brothers — all of whom are Eagle Scouts — have responded to.

Instincts kick in

Konzelman works as an accountant in Olympia, Wash. He and his girlfriend, Alicia Hoverson, were driving to work when they witnessed a train speeding past them. The locomotive and its cars barreled off the tracks and as it rushed nearly 50 mph over the speed limit, killing three people and injuring dozens of others.

Konzelman reached the harrowing scene soon after the derailment — cars dangling off a bridge, people ejected from the train. He quickly grabbed his boots and a flashlight from his car’s trunk and ran to lend a hand.

“I didn’t see anybody there helping,” Konzelman says. “In a lot of ways, it was instinctual.”

He says he gleaned courage from his younger brother, Darien. Two weeks prior to the train derailment, Darien was the first to come across a car accident and immediately phoned 911. Police officers were so impressed with how calm and collected Darien was during the phone call, they suggested he become a police officer. Darien is an officer in the Air National Guard and will be pursuing advanced degrees in clinical psychology.

Nor was that accident the first time a Konzelman brother had jumped into action. Daniel responded to a head-on collision near the family’s home where one vehicle flew into an embankment.

“I was practicing my fiddle while I was looking out the window and I saw it all happen,” Daniel says. “I immediately called 911 and ran down there.”

Fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt in that wreck, he says.

Scouting’s influence

The Konzelmans grew up in Puyallup, Wash., just east of Tacoma. The boys’ mother placed special emphasis on subjects she held in high value: faith, music and Scouting. Daniel was in Cub Scouts for about a year, anxiously waiting to turn 11 so he could become a Boy Scout. His older brothers, Drew, Derek and David, had shared stories of backpacking treks and summer camps.

“I looked up to my brothers a lot; they made Boy Scouting cool,” Konzelman says. “I loved every bit of it.”

He was in Troop 174 for three years before joining a larger troop in Troop 604 of Eatonville, Wash., part of the Pacific Harbors Council. His favorite activities were knot-tying and learning first aid.

“Boy Scouts teaches you general wisdom that transfers into every area of life,” Konzelman says.

He used his knot-tying skills while working for a tree service company for five years. Daniel is not a Scouter, but his family goes on frequent camping trips together, and he enjoys mountaineering and rappelling. His brother Derek works for an outdoor retail company and goes skiing or backpacking on a regular basis.

Konzelman took Scouting’s motto of “Be Prepared” to heart, hence he kept boots and a flashlight in his car.

In the spotlight

While he was helping passengers, Konzelman contacted his family, asking them to pray. One of his brothers posted the news of the train derailment on social media, and soon after, reporters were contacting him, wanting to talk to Daniel.

His story of comforting, praying with and rescuing the wounded has been told by many major news outlets. Konzelman doesn’t see his actions as heroic, but rather as simply being “the hands and feet of Jesus Christ to those people.”

His family members aren’t strangers to being in the spotlight.

Konzelman and his brothers are part of a band and have performed in Japan and Europe. In 2012, Drew and Derek starred in a reality TV series, “Escape Routes,” on NBC, and their sister Dustin-Leigh appeared on Season 10 of “The Amazing Race” on CBS. She also competed in the Miss America  pageant in 2006.

So, when the media requested interviews with Daniel, he didn’t shirk from the opportunity to tell his story. He found it surreal at first.

“I didn’t think what I did was special or noteworthy,” Konzelman says.

Instead, he viewed the incident as an example of God being there for people during a dark time. He hopes his story is a message of hope for people rather than a tale of heroism.

Helpful at all times

The train derailment will have a lasting impact on Konzelman’s life. It has changed his perspective on how to love other people and to cherish every moment.

“I was reminded of the value of human life and how sacred it is,” he says. “I’m so thankful of the million different blessings we take for granted every day that can be taken in an instant.”

Two young men he encountered suffered severe neck injuries. He and his girlfriend plan to visit them in the hospital often. Konzelman experienced a debilitating stress fracture in his spine two years ago and was forced to use a wheelchair for a month.

“I hope I can be encouraging to them,” Konzelman says.

He also hopes Scouts can draw from a lesson he has learned not to be discouraged when faced with difficulty as those experiences can translate positively down the road.

“Trials create good character when endured with integrity,” he says.

About Michael Freeman 31 Articles
Michael Freeman, an Eagle Scout, is associate editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines.