Coast Guardsman saves passenger; receives award for heroic action

HSC Bidwell 6By Coast Guard Auxiliarist Tracey Mertens

Chief Petty Officer Robert Bidwell was presented with the Coast Guard Commendation Medal June 11 at Coast Guard Base Ketchikan, for his heroic action as a good Samaritan, saving the life of Danielle Brown, the passenger in a car accident April 24, and daughter of Alaska State Trooper John Brown.

Chief Bidwell was riding his bike to work at 6 a.m. when he turned a corner and was surprised to come upon a truck that had impacted with a rock wall moments earlier. Bidwell, a corpsman with 22 years of experience between his time in the Navy and Coast Guard, stepped in without hesitation to assist the girl he found in the passenger seat and provided assistance. 

“Alaska is a rural state and it can take a while for rescue personnel to arrive,” said Bidwell. “So I settled in for the long haul to do my best to keep her neck stabilized and airway clear. It took about an hour for responders to arrive and extract her from the vehicle.”

Only a few miles away, Alaska State Trooper John Brown and his wife Mary, a dispatcher for the troopers in Ketchikan, got the wake up every parent hopes never to experience. He was the responding officer on duty that day and the young girl in the car was their daughter.

“When I arrived on scene I was standing there in my uniform as the first responder, but I shifted into Dad-mode,” said Brown. “My goal was to pull my daughter back to consciousness and there was already this guy sitting in the back seat behind her that had her stabilized and breathing again. It’s because of him that my daughter is alive and well today.”

Though she was primarily unconscious at the scene, Danielle has made an excellent recovery from the minor abrasions and a broken arm she suffered in the accident.

Approximately 2-3 weeks after the accident, Bidwell found himself, by chance, sitting and talking with a girl who worked at the airport. He was waiting there to deliver some medical gear to the crew of an incoming Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter.

“Another woman walked over and interrupted us to point out to the girl in front of me that I was the person who had been at the scene of her accident,” said Bidwell. “We couldn’t believe the coincidence.  I didn’t recognize her; she looked so good compared to the accident scene.”

Corpsmen such as Bidwell, also referred to as health services technicians, are trained in a variety of areas similar to those in the civilian world who may work in hospitals, clinics or fire and rescue stations. Bidwell is an emergency medical technician trained for independent duty. This means he may be called upon in the Coast Guard to participate in search and rescue or medical-evaluation missions. Bidwell is currently assigned to duty as the Health Services Work Life Clinic Administrator at Coast Guard Base Ketchikan. On or off duty he is ready to respond to those in need.

The Coast Guard Commendation Medal was established by the commandant in 1947, and is awarded to members of the armed services serving in any capacity with the Coast Guard who distinguish themselves by heroic or meritorious achievement or service.