In recognition of putting her life in danger to save Amtrak train crash victims Dec., 18, Tanya Porter, a registered nurse from Madigan Army Medical Center, was awarded the Secretary of the Army Award for Valor June 1 by Dr. Mark Esper, secretary of the Army, at the Pentagon, in Washington, D.C.
The Secretary of the Army Award for Valor is the highest award in the Army for civilians who voluntarily risk their personal safety in an act of heroism or sacrifice.
“I’m so overly honored; I just don’t have words to express how awesome this is really,” Porter said.
Amtrak No. 501, the inaugural train on the new high-speed rail line from Seattle to Portland, derailed near Interstate 5’s Mounts Road exit next to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, killing three, injuring more than 60 people. Porter, who just left Madigan, was stopped just three vehicles from the wreckage.
She immediately got out to start treating the victims. For Porter, her response was truly automatic.
“All I knew was that I was out of my car and traveling to the wreckage,” Porter said, who was still in her scrubs at the time of the accident.
Other bystanders saw that her badge said she was a nurse and started bringing injured victims to her to triage.
Porter found herself in a mass-casualty situation with extremely limited medical supplies. She grabbed a small first-aid kit from her car and then started receiving supplies from other stopped bystanders to include gloves, additional first-aid kits and towels.
“It was amazing how many people just brought stuff out of their cars,” Porter said, who added that many bystanders also helped care for victims by using towels, blankets and other materials to stop their bleeding.
She found herself directly underneath a wrecked train car that was dangling from the overpass, with five or six injured victims laid out on the ground underneath it.
“The people … were yelling at me to come out from (under the overpass) because there was diesel fuel on the ground and the wreckage hadn’t been stabilized yet and it could fall,” she said. “I saw a gentleman on the ground who was quite injured — they were telling me to come away from there, and I didn’t want to leave.”
She directed other bystanders to move the victims to safer locations, and then she was given a patient who was severely injured with a traumatic brain, neck and a chest injuries. She stayed with him until ambulances arrived, conducting neurological assessments on him, ensuring his airway remained open, keeping him alive until more help arrived.
Even after paramedics arrived, the police on the scene asked Porter to triage more injured victims on the way back to her vehicle. One baby she evaluated had fallen off the changing table on the train and hit her head on the floor when the train derailed.
“With the TBI training I received (at Madigan), I knew that with all of the flashing lights and everything, that would be bad for her if she had a TBI,” Porter said. “So I gave the mom my sweater because it had a hood and she could put it over the baby’s face.”
Porter was submitted for the award by Maj. Parker Hahn, chief of the Madigan Critical Care Nursing Department, who immediately recognized the magnitude of Porter’s actions in saving the lives of the train victims that day.
“She definitely put her life in danger to save the lives of unknown (people) on her way home from working a 12-hour shift,” Hahn said.
Since December, Porter has received recognition by Col. Michael Place, Madigan commander, and Maj. Gen. Barbara Holcomb, U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command commanding general and the chief of the Army Nurse Corps.
After the train derailment, Porter heard from many of the victims and their families who recognized her from news interviews and messaged her on social media that she helped to save them. She said that while she is honored by her Army recognition, knowing that she helped save people is what means the most to her.
“To realize there was a person who was dying who is now alive, hopefully because of the help I gave him, that’s wonderful,” Porter said. “That’s better than any accolade.”