MILFORD, Mass. – It was early afternoon on Sunday, August 7, and Sgt. 1st Class Breyda Pereyra was driving north on Route 24. She had plans to enjoy the only day in a two week period that she didn’t have to wear her uniform.
The day before, Pereyra, a senior food service manager with the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s 125th Quartermaster Company, had competed alongside her fellow cooks in the 110th Maintenance Company at the regional level for the Phillip A. Connelly Award. The award recognizes excellence in the preparing and serving of food at military dining halls and in the field.
Pereyra and her fellow Guard members won the regional competition.
Now as she was traveling towards Boston to celebrate, her journey was about to come to a fork in the road.
“I saw an SUV rolled over,” said Pereyra, “I immediately pulled (off) into the breakdown lane.
Pereyra is not a medic; she works during the week as an information technology specialist at the Massachusetts National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters, here, when she is not performing her food service duties. The only medical training Pereyra has is basic first aid training that every Servicemember obtains.
She could have kept on driving; a sizable crowd of people had also pulled over near the accident site.
“Back in December, I lost my best friend on that highway” recalled Pereyra, “Even if there was a little bit that I could do to assist, it would be doing something good for someone.”
What she ended up doing was more than a little “bit”.
Pereyra headed towards the crash.
“The vehicle was completely totaled,” said Pereyra.
The driver of the SUV had managed to free himself and climb out of the back window of the vehicle.
“He starts walking towards the breakdown lane,” said Pereyra, “Everybody … grabbed him and put him off to the side so he could sit down.”
She ran back to her car to grab a small first-aid kit. When she returned to the scene there was an off duty firefighter (who is also an EMT) and a nurse and another person at the driver’s side, but with the exception of some tape, they did not have any first-aid supplies. The only first-aid supplies on scene were Pereyra’s.
“We start grabbing the bandages … some of the tape,” said Pereyra.
The driver had received numerous cuts, including deep gashes on his arm and on his ear.
Pereyra and the others started to treat the driver until the police and rescue units arrived.
“Somebody … tied a t-shirt around his forearm to try to stop the bleeding. Another lady was holding his head still, just in case he had any injuries to his bones,” said Pereyra.
The driver wasn’t really communicating with his rescuers, he was just sitting there.
“People started asking him questions, he wasn’t really responding too much,” recalled Pereyra, “So I started speaking to him in Spanish and he started responding. We were getting all the information from him that we needed.”
The driver knew a little English recalled Pereyra, but he was more fluent in Spanish. Pereyra was the only person among the rescuer’s who could speak Spanish. She then became the group’s de-facto translator.
While this was happening, most of the crowd stood and watched; but not everyone.
“I see somebody walking behind me (in) ACU’s,” said Pereyra, “I looked to my left and it was Brig. Gen. Sellars.”
Brig. Gen. Thomas Sellars is the commander, Land Component, Massachusetts National Guard. He also stopped to see if he could help.
“I arrived on the scene a couple of minutes after the accident,” said Sellars,” Sgt. (1st Class) Pereyra was already there.”
Sellars assisted in the bandaging efforts alongside Pereyra and the others.
“She (Pereyra) offered a fantastic service and comfort to him,” said Sellars, “He was Hispanic and everyone else there, other than Sgt. (1st Class) Pereyra did not speak Spanish. She spoke to him a lot, translated a lot of the discussions that were going on around him. I think that made the individual … more comfortable.”
Sellars stayed until the state police, West Bridgewater fire department and the West Bridgewater paramedics arrived on the scene and took over.
Pereyra still was needed on the scene; none of the new personnel spoke Spanish.
“I stepped into the ambulance so they (the paramedics) could jot his information down,” said Pereyra, “They let him know where he was going, I translated that to him, to let him know that they were going to take him to a local hospital.”
The hospital was nearby, so there was no need for Pereyra to accompany the driver any longer. As she got out of the ambulance one of the paramedics thanked her for translating for them. The paramedics were not the only ones who were impressed with Pereyra; Sellars was very impressed. “I’m just tremendously impressed with Sgt. (1st Class) Pereyra,” said Sellars, “How calm she was, how focused she was on trying to help the individual.”
As for the fact that she stopped in the first place to try to offer assistance, even though she is not a medic, was not a surprise to Sellars.
“She did what any one of us, any Soldier (or Servicemember) would do in the same circumstances. We’re all trained in basic first-aid,” said Sellars,” It’s not different from the sense of duty that makes us serve selflessly in the military; somebody’s in need, the opportunity presents itself that you’re in a position to be able to do something.”
After the ambulance pulled away, Pereyra called a friend to see if she could borrow some dry clothes and then resumed her journey towards Boston.