This article is also available in the RESERVIST Magazine, Issue 2, 2018.
Written by Anastasia Devlin
A Coast Guard Reserve petty officer was hailed as a hero in early March after saving an accident victim on the Atlantic City Expressway in Gloucester Township, New Jersey.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Kenneth Minnes and his girlfriend were taking their cat to the vet when they noticed a small trail of white smoke on the side of the road ahead.
As they neared the site, Minnes, who is also a New Jersey state trooper, saw that the smoke was coming from an overturned pickup truck. Passing motorists were already stopping to help the two men who’d been traveling in the vehicle, and Minnes pulled over. He could tell they’d arrived within a minute or two of the accident.
“I told my girlfriend to call 911, she knows the kind of information I need to know as a trooper, like an update of where I am, a description of the vehicle,” said Minnes.
He ran to the scene where one person, the driver, lay on the grass screaming. A bald man was working on cutting the passenger’s seatbelt so he could tug the second man out of the truck. The trooper pitched in to help pull him from the truck. The bald man, who Minnes described as “an ex-Marine, a Vietnam Vet,” didn’t stay long enough for anyone to get his name, but Minnes was more worried about the black smoke that was beginning to engulf the truck. He could feel the heat on his face, and yelled that they needed to get the two men to safety.
“I knew we had to pull them upwind of the fire, which I learned as a coxswain,” said the 27-year-old reservist.
The small band of people who’d left their cars on the side of the road pitched in to help, moving the men where Minnes directed. He made mental notes about the victims’ speech, wounds and body movements, and he realized the passenger was in much worse shape. Making matters worse, the passenger was also going into shock. Minnes carried the passenger under his arms, one of which felt like a bag of broken sticks, while an off-duty firefighter grabbed the man’s legs.
They walked the victims back up to the shoulder of the road. The truck’s gas tank exploded suddenly, and the vehicle burst into flames. Though Minnes could feel the fire getting hotter, he knew they were a safe enough distance away, and he began working on the man with more critical injuries.
“At that point, I knew the other guy was screaming, so I knew he’d be okay,” said Minnes, “but the passenger’s face was blank, and I knew he was bleeding out. I thought, ‘This guy needs some serious help right now, or he’s gonna die.’”
He yelled for a knife from the crowd gathered around, and began tearing the blood-soaked sweatshirt off the broken limb as the firefighter made strategic cuts in the cloth. The arm was a mess of bone and muscle, and Minnes knew he had a decision to make.
“In a stressful situation like that, I don’t know how you could focus, but I just slowed down and focused on the facts,” said Minnes. “I wasn’t concerned with him keeping his arm anymore, I was more afraid he was gonna die. I needed something hard and straight, like a tie rod from a vehicle.”
Someone handed him the end of a tree branch, and he yelled for a t-shirt, too. Making a series of half-hitches, the boatswain’s mate turned the stick and a long-sleeve t-shirt into a tourniquet, securing it with the sleeves to the man’s body as paramedics arrived on scene. Fire crews worked on the blaze.
Only 10 minutes had elapsed since he parked his car, but to Minnes, it was like everything moved in slow motion.
Both men were taken to a hospital in Camden, New Jersey, where Minnes heard from one of the State Police detectives that the emergency room doctor was impressed by the precision of the tourniquet.
Minnes said he received the majority of his first aid training from another reserve petty officer at his unit, Station Manasquan Inlet in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey.
“Chris Newcomb, he’s a full-time firefighter, he does all our first aid training. I’ve learned more from him than any other first aid class or anything. He’s a great asset to the Coast Guard.”
Minnes, who’s been a Coast Guardsman for nine years, credited his ability to remain calm and focused to his six months at the New Jersey State Police Academy.
“I don’t think I could have done what I did without going through that academy,” he said. “That being said, I couldn’t have saved that guy without the first aid training I got in the Coast Guard.”
“It was an outstanding rescue,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Brian Miley, senior enlisted reserve advisor for Station Manasquan Inlet “He’s a great coxswain at the station, does extra drills, and he’s got great attention to detail. I’m not surprised he knocked it out of the park.”
The governor of New Jersey called Minnes personally to express his gratitude, and the Winslow Fire Department in Winslow, New Jersey, held an award ceremony for Minnes and the firefighter who stopped to help rescue the broken passenger. (Oddly enough, Minnes couldn’t remember many names from that day, but he knew the exact time he tied the tourniquet.) Minnes was most honored by the mother and girlfriend of the man he’d saved. They reached out to him via social media to let him know that the man’s son, born two weeks after his rescue, had been named Kenneth.