Staff Sergeant Nicholas “Bruce” Davis, a cannon crew member and section chief assigned to C Battery, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division Artillery, 101st Airborne Division, has earned a nomination for the Soldier’s Medal from his unit for heroism in saving two lives on June 9, 2017.
The Soldier’s Medal is a military award that recognises peacetime acts of valor where a Soldier voluntarily puts himself or herself in personal danger.
On June 9, Davis was driving east on Interstate 24 with his son, Gabriel, and his friend, Katie, in his grey Chevy Silverado. Davis had just filled up the tank and that evening they were on a four-hour drive headed east to Chattanooga.
Davis was one of a multitude of people travelling on the interstate that day. His journey was in parallel to everyone’s trip. Lives packed into east and west bound lanes fluttered close to each other at speeds of 70 miles per hour or more — all moving toward their destinations.
Normally a trip on the interstate may result in a glance, or less often a smile or wave. Often there is no acknowledgment of the people travelling close by. Usually, the fleeting recognition of others fades away at the next exit or next mismatch in speeds when that moment of proximity dissipates.
For Davis though, this was not a normal evening.
Davis noticed a man on the side of the road near mile marker 23. Looking around, he saw a car overturned on the side of the road.
He suddenly, but safely, pulled his truck over to the side of the road, turned on his hazard lights and went to investigate. At that instant, instead of continuing his trip and passing by a moment in somebody else’s life, Davis’ life forcefully intersected with Rick and Sharon Steiert’s lives.
“I just jumped out and ran up to the car, and on my way up to the car I had noticed an engine fire that started on the engine block up underneath,” Davis said. “By the time I got there the guy that was on the highway, walking on the edge of the highway, was by the vehicle as well. I asked him do you have anything to get into the vehicle with and he [said] no.”
Davis almost always carries a pocket knife. On the end of his knife is a glass buster, so he moved to the narrow space between the car and the ground. He checked the two people in the car for responsiveness. They were conscious, so he alerted them that he was going to break the window and they covered their faces just before he shattered the glass.
Davis quickly recognised a problem as gasoline poured out of the car.
The accident had flung a gas can from the back of the vehicle into the passenger compartment. It was dangerously close to the engine fire. So he reached in, grabbed the can, and tossed it away from the vehicle. Other bystanders rendering aid moved the container further from the flames.
Someone had also managed to open the door facing up enough for Davis, who was inside the car, to start helping Rick out of the car, as he simultaneously tried to help Sharon exit the vehicle.
“I was on both passengers at that same time, and as soon as I started doing all that the whole car just engulfed in flames,” Davis said. “I felt it wrapped around my body and when it did, I turned into ‘The Flash.'”
In a burst, he pushed Rick out of the vehicle and dragged Sharon out, but because of the tight space, it took a moment to pull her out.
“She actually caught on fire from her waist down,” Davis said. “When I finally dragged her out I noticed it, I felt a burning sensation on my legs. So, I thought my clothes were on fire, but I looked down and [it was] my leg that was on fire. So, I put it out.”
Davis was not sure exactly how he put out his legs, but he saw Sharon was still on fire. After a short moment to assess the situation, he took off his shirt and started using it to put out the flames. Another bystander rushed in to assist Davis extinguish the fire on Sharon. With help from a person with a fire extinguisher they put out the flames, but it was difficult because her pants were bunched around her ankles and kept relighting. Then they moved her away from the fire.
Davis and the other bystanders then waited for the ambulances and police to arrive at the scene of the accident. From there, Rick and Davis left for Vanderbilt University Medical Center in the same ambulance after EMTs administered pain medication. A life flight helicopter took Sharon to the hospital.
Davis’ friend, Katie, followed him to the hospital with his son. Davis made sure his son was taken care of as he headed to the hospital and he contacted his unit.
At the hospital Davis received treatment for his burns and the doctors monitored him for other injuries.
When Davis saw somebody in need he stepped in without thinking of himself because, in his words, “it was the right thing to do.” For his effort he sustained second-degree burns that were nearly third-degree burns over 75 per cent of his right leg.
Davis spent seven years in the Army training for any contingency. With two combat tours, one to Afghanistan, and one to Iraq where he recently fought with Iraqi security forces to retake Mosul, Davis was ready. Although he said the situation he found himself in was not the same as a combat situation, the adrenaline was rushing through his system as he provided aid to the couple just the same.
“He’s just an all-around good Soldier,” said 1st Lt. Charles Trumpfheller, Davis’s platoon leader. “He’ll do anything for anybody and really I mean he’s one of those [noncommissioned officers] who you can count on to get things done.”
Trumpfheller said despite his injuries, Davis is working hard to recover and return to duty. Monday was the first day he could do physical training with the unit again and Davis’s goal is to go back to leading troops as soon as possible.
Davis, Rick and Sharon all sustained injuries, and Sharon’s were severe.
As he left the hospital, Davis was upset because he did not know what happened to the people he had helped rescue. But Rick and Sharon Steiert managed to get in contact with Davis through the doctors, and in the time since the accident they have grown to be close friends.
The Steierts consider Davis a hero and new member of their family. Sharon’s children, Britney Balduc and Scott Capodice, are both thankful.
Capodice said words cannot express their gratitude or the emotions he is going through. Since the accident, Davis has called both of them and has visited their parents, Rick and Sharon.
Although the recovery has been hard, Balduc is glad both she and her daughter still have Rick and Sharon.
“I feel like [Davis is] going to be an extension of our family now because he’s been out visiting once or twice a week and staying in close contact with my brother and I, and my mum and dad, and you can just tell he cares,” Balduc said. “I had a great relationship with her [Sharon] and she’s such an influence in my life … that’s a blessing to me and it’s something I can never thank Staff Sgt. Davis enough.”
“You know he seems to want to have a relationship with my parents, which I think is amazing,” Capodice said. “So, I don’t know how I look at him besides like another brother that I didn’t know was going to have at 36.”
For Davis though, his job is not done as he helps Rick and Sharon make it through a difficult recovery that will have an impact on them not only physically, but financially.
“I’m just trying to help them get any kind of donation that anybody can be willing to give, because … [they] might have been insured and stuff and so the other person might have had insurance that’s going to pay for a little bit, but I know how expensive medical bills can get,” he said. “I know she’s been in [the hospital] over 30 days and she’s in ICU getting wound care every day. Physical therapy and multiple surgeries are going to be a lot.”
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