“I don’t know how many people were outside the vehicle, but I heard them counting down ‘three, two, one, lift!’ while they moved the weight of the tree off the car. I pushed up on the roof with my back to allow just enough room to get the boy out without causing further injury to him,” said the corpsman of 15 years. The boy’s head had been lodged into the side of his own left knee. The vehicle’s roof was also pushed into the child’s back.
At this point, Rory Farrell had already saved the boy’s mother who was not breathing in the front seat of the vehicle. He was now determined to save her trapped son.
Farrell, a native of Colchester, Connecticut, had always shown compassion and the willingness to help others even at a young age, according to his family.
“In that time, there have been moments that hinted to the amazing young man he would become. Sparks of light in moments of darkness that were ignited by Rory,” said Alexandra McGrath, one of his sisters.
Farrell had never been to Yosemite National Park in California before deciding to vacation there. After suffering a hand injury, he thought a simple camping trip would help him “push the reset button.”
It was Labor Day weekend 2017, a very busy time to visit the park. Farrell left a day earlier than anticipated. The U.S. Navy special amphibious reconnaissance corpsman finished up on a weapons range the day prior, where he supported U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, and decided it would be a good idea to keep his medical bag with him on the trip nearly 400 miles away. He did not know just how important that choice would be.
The following day soon after arriving in the park, he realized just how crowded it could be. Not wanting to be around that many people, Farrell decided to drive farther up north in the park.
After some time on the road, he eventually decided to turn around and started to backtrack his way toward the crowds once again for no particular reason.
“To this day, I still look back and say ‘wow that was a big decision,’” said Farrell.
It was only 15 minutes after he turned around that a tree, later measured to be 33 inches in circumference and 110 feet high, fell onto a parked Toyota Prius, crushing the car no more than 100 meters in front of him.
“It didn’t make sense at first, because you’re just seeing a giant tree crush a car,” said Farrell. He got out of his truck and ran toward the vehicle to figure out how he could help.
Farrell saw two occupants outside of the vehicle and breathed a sigh of relief, thinking everyone made it out OK. He then saw the facial expression and desperation of the driver, clearly panicking – speaking no English – made it clear to Farrell that there were still people in the car.
Running up to the crushed vehicle, he could see a woman unresponsive in the front passenger’s seat and just behind her a 4-year-old little boy pinned down by the roof of the car, trapped in his booster seat.
“In a situation like that, time is of the essence,” said Farrell.
Because there were two people, he had to make the immediate decision of who to assess first. The mother was not pinned in the vehicle. He saw this as an opportunity to get her out of there quickly, according to Farrell.
He gave a single rescue breath to the mother, who responded. He then directed a few bystanders who had arrived at the scene to take the mother out of the vehicle and get her to safety, according to the accident report.
Because of the boy’s position and not wanting to risk further injury to him, Farrell decided to get into the vehicle and push up on the roof with his back while bystanders outside lifted the tree off the car just enough for the child to be removed from his booster seat.
With the boy free from the weight of the tree, Farrell could start a more detailed assessment. He felt for a pulse, which was high.
“As a medic, this is a good sign, a really good sign,” said Farrell.
The boy was not breathing, and his jaw was locked in place. Farrell’s attempted rescue breath did not work as it did with the child’s mother.
Realizing the increasing danger of the tree pushing into the roof, Farrell called for a bystander to come grab the boy as he passed him through the window. After getting out of the car himself, he immediately took the boy back and put him next to his mom, according to Farrell.
After manipulating his jaw enough to get it open and clearing the airway of any blockage, Farrell gave another rescue breath. This time the boy responded, taking a breath.
Remembering he had his medical supplies in his truck, he sprinted to retrieve the bag and return to the boy and his mother to further administer first aid.
Farrell heard a bystander on the phone with emergency services and requested to speak with the dispatcher. He disseminated vital information to the 911 operator, including a recommendation to fly the patients out instead of using ground transportation. The dispatcher requested a medevac, according to the accident report.
An ambulance arrived shortly after to transport the two to their respective helicopters. Farrell was asked by the paramedics to ride with the boy and further assist until they reached the medevac crew. He hopped into the ambulance and continued his efforts. He did so until the boy was turned over to the helicopter crew.
Farrell’s preparedness for this situation stems from his occupation as a special operations independent duty corpsman.
“Since Rory was a little boy, he has dreamed of being in the military,” said Megin Farrell, another one of his sisters.
With this goal in mind and the aspiration to help others, he joined the Navy in 2004 to be a corpsman. From there, he worked his way into the special operations community.
He became a special amphibious reconnaissance corpsman or SARC, giving him a unique opportunity to complete additional and more challenging schooling, furthering his personal goal of being able to help others, according to Farrell.
Whether during this incident or when helping an injured Marine or Sailor on one of Farrell’s multiple overseas deployments, his reaction is no different.
“Rory is an exceptional human being, and anyone who gets to know him or has the chance to work with him will realize very quickly the same things we already know about him,” said Megin Farrell.
On his behalf, Farrell’s family traveled to Washington, D.C., Sept. 12, 2019, and accepted the U.S. Department of the Interior Citizen’s Award for Bravery for his actions and heroism.
“I was at the right place at the right time with the right training to make a difference, and that’s what’s important in a situation like this,” said Farrell. Farrell is currently deployed aboard the USS Boxer with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.