Thalia Rodriguez has what she describes as an obsession with the firefighting service. And she was actually driving to a fire station on one fateful morning in May 2017; indeed, she often rides alongside the crew in a firetruck. However, midway through her journey she came upon a traffic accident. The teenager was first at the scene, and at the side of the road she saw a man laying bleeding next to a crumpled motorcycle. Then when she heard news from the EMTs, she was even more shocked.
Rodriguez, a 17-year-old student at Westland Hialeah High, had changed her plans on Sunday, May 7, at short notice. In fact, she was supposed to be away that day; eventually, though, she felt compelled to return home and see out her usual routine at a fire crew ride-along.
As the teenager explained to CBS Miami, “It was prom weekend and I was supposed to stay at the hotel the whole weekend, but I decided to come back on Saturday. I wanted to go to the station on Sunday because I’m pretty obsessed.”
Rodriguez is a high school senior studying a health science program and training as a first responder. When she was on her way to do her Sunday ride-along with the Hialeah fire crew, however, she came across an accident. Consequently, she got out of her car and approached a man who was lying at the side of the road.
As she approached the man, Rodriguez began to realize the horrific nature of his injuries. In fact, his legs were severely wounded and he was bleeding heavily. Thankfully, with three years of health science training and two years’ practical experience riding with firefighters, Rodriguez knew exactly what to do.
“I knew I had to stop,” Rodriguez explained to CBS Miami. “I was in uniform and when I saw him I put on my gloves and checked his level of responsiveness. He was okay, but he was not talking back to me. He was in obvious shock because of what happened and he was not screaming in pain.”
Just then, another driver pulled up to the scene. The woman was Vianca Diaz, who turned out to be a nurse. Understanding the extent of the motorcyclist’s injuries, Rodriguez made a quick decision to apply a tourniquet to try to stop the bleeding from the man’s leg.
Meanwhile, Diaz fetched a belt from her car, which Rodriguez applied in order to stem the bleeding. It worked. However, with emergency services on their way, all the teenager could do was wait. And it was only when they arrived that she would learn the identity of the seriously injured man.
The victim of the crash was Ricky Carter, who happened to be an off-duty Miami-Dade cop. And when emergency response units arrived, Carter – a veteran who had served 21 years in the police force – was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s trauma center.
However, Rodriguez didn’t tell anyone about what she’d done that day. Instead, it was the City of Hialeah Fire Department that relayed news of the teen’s impressive actions to her teacher, Luis Espinosa – who himself was a retired firefighter. What’s more, it transpired that Rodriguez’s actions had saved Carter’s life.
Espinosa, who has taught health science at Rodriguez’s school for three years, told the Miami Herald, “It’s rather difficult to be 17 and comfort a grown man during a time like that. I was impressed with the first aid skills, of course, but I was more impressed with her grace under pressure.”
Rodriguez herself told the Herald, “I knew I couldn’t panic. At that point it was only him, only save him, buy him time. Everything else in such a scenario is all a blur except for what you’re focused on.” Furthermore, it turned out that her decision to apply a tourniquet to the man’s leg displayed a wisdom beyond her years.
“In all honesty, in that scenario the most trained cardiac surgeon in the field would have done the same thing,” Espinosa explained to the Herald. “They had to stop the bleeding, there was no other way to do it. The leg was probably going to be lost anyway, so it was a great decision.”
“I’ve been doing this for three years,” Rodriguez explained to CBS Miami. “And [I] have been riding with Hialeah and City of Miami firefighters for two years, so I guess it all played in to that. When you see something like that and you are alone you really have to keep your cool.”
Rodriguez has tried to play down the “hero” status that has subsequently been bestowed upon her. However, one of the more experienced responders at the scene believes that Carter may have died had it not been for the student’s quick response. Perhaps as a result, many others felt that Rodriguez’s actions should be recognized.
And Rodriguez was duly honored the following Monday, when Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent of Miami-Dade Schools, presented her with an award. The quick-witted teenager was handed a “Superintendent Certificate of Achievement” to acknowledge her life-saving actions.
During the presentation, Carvalho said to Rodriguez, “You are the definition of courage under fire. You are courageous, selfless and are skilled and don’t ask permission to do the right thing. I think you are a wonderful example of what young people should be.” Carvalho’s words moved the teenager to tears.
And the accident hasn’t put Rodriguez off becoming a firefighter; after graduating from high school in 2017, she intends to continue on just the same career path as before. In fact, even during the presentation her thoughts were with the injured off-duty officer. Afterwards, she also donated blood at an emergency blood drive set up in honor of Carter.
It is believed that Carter lost a leg in the horrific crash – and without Rodriguez’s attention, he may well have lost the other, too. Faced with such a stomach-churning situation, many wouldn’t have been able to cope. The health science student, however, simply turned to her training.
“I knew I could be of some help and I thought I could do whatever I could do until paramedics arrived,” Rodriguez told Fox News. “People asked me if I was scared when I saw him. I wasn’t. I believe I was there for a reason and I was going to do whatever I could to help him.”