A couple of years ago, Eagle Scout Sean Ochsenbein and his wife came across a devastating head-on collision in East Tennessee while driving home from a ski trip. Ochsenbein, an EMT at the time, quickly noticed flames coming from both vehicles and the drivers were still inside.
Ochsenbein and off-duty sheriff’s deputy William Buchanan, who also approached the scene, rushed to the wreck to help the drivers. One had died in the crash; the other was dazed and trapped. The two men tried to open the car door, but it was jammed shut and the fire was quickly spreading inside the cabin. Ochsenbein tried to crawl in through the car’s back hatch, but a plume of smoke hindered him from reaching the driver.
He remembered he had a heavy-duty ratchet strap in his SUV; he attached it to the car’s door and his SUV’s tow hook, and used it to pry the door open. Ochsenbein and Buchanan were able to dislodge and pull the trapped driver out before the car was engulfed in flames.
This past February, Ochsenbein received a Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor at the White House. It’s the highest decoration of bravery for public safety officers.
“I was just doing the job I was trained to do,” Ochsenbein says. “I believe that God places us in situations for us to use the skills he has given us and this day was one of those situations.”
Lessons in Scouts
Before he began his training in medicine, which evolved into his current position as a physician specializing in emergency medicine at a North Carolina medical center, Ochsenbein received lessons in teamwork and leadership in Scouts.
He earned his Eagle Scout award in 2006 while part of Troop 156 in Cookeville, Tennessee. He served as a patrol leader and remembers motivating his fellow Scouts on cold mornings and during long hikes. He applauds his Scoutmaster with letting the Scouts lead, fail at times and learn.
“It is in these times as a youth that leadership is born — not in a classroom or through a book,” Ochsenbein says. “To learn how to lead, a Scout must learn how to follow first. It is a natural progression of leadership that Scouting has mastered.”
Ochsenbein attended Philmont Scout Ranch and later worked at the base camp there during the summer of 2006.
Duty to one’s country was also instilled in him, and visiting the White House in February reinforced that sense of duty.
“The experience made it clear that each of us has a role to play in our communities, to make America and its citizens stronger,” Ochsenbein says.
The Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor was created in 2001 to honor police officers, firefighters and emergency personnel for going beyond the call of duty. Ochsenbein was one of 12 who were honored this year; 120 people nationwide have received a Medal of Valor since 2001.