Photo Information

On his behalf, Rory Farrell’s family accepted the U.S. Department of the Interior Citizen’s Award for Bravery Sept. 12, 2019, in Washington, D.C. Pictured from left to right, Candace Farrell, Megin Farrell, Secretary of the Department of Interior David L. Bernhardt, and Alexandra McGrath. (Courtesy photo)

Photo by Courtesy photo

Humble corpsman, Connecticut native saves family in remote area of Yosemite National Park

27 Sep 2019 | 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit

“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.


More Media

Marine Corps News

Colonel Thomas M. Siverts
Commanding Officer

Colonel Tom Siverts is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in August 1989. He achieved a commission as a Second Lieutenant through the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program following his graduation from the University of Virginia in May 1999. Colonel Siverts has deployed in support of Operations DESERT SHIELD, DESERT STORM, IRAQI FREEDOM, and ENDURING FREEDOM. His other operational deployments include serving with Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 2/8, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU); BLT 3/8, 22d MEU; BLT 2/8, 26th MEU, and Task Force 61/2.

Read Biography

Lieutenant Col. Steven M. Sprigg
Executive Officer

LtCol Sprigg was born in Parkersburg, WV. LtCol Sprigg enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in September 2004 and recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, SC. LtCol Sprigg was selected for the Enlisted Commissioning Program and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in March 2008. He was designated a Naval Aviator in February 2011 and reported to HMLAT-303 for training as an AH-1W pilot. LtCol Sprigg is currently serving as the Executive Officer for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Camp Pendleton, California.

Read Biography

Sergeant Major Travis L. DeBarr
Sergeant Major

Sergeant Major DeBarr enlisted in the Marine Corps and reported to MCRD San Diego, CA, for recruit training in October 1994.Staff Sergeant DeBarr completed two combat tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from September 2005 to April 2006 and again form March 2007 to September 2007. While serving with 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, First Sergeant DeBarr completed one combat deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, from October 2012 to May 2013. Sergeant Major DeBarr currently serves as the Sergeant Major for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Read Biography