By Erin Smith
AYER — If the man who jumped from a moving commuter train in Ayer last week survives, it may be thanks to the quick thinking of four soldiers who rushed to give him first aid before emergency responders arrived.
Terrence Hoover, Joseph Bumgarner Jr., David Middleton and Alexandria Vickery, all sergeants in the Army, ran to help the man after he jumped, applying pressure to his wounds and taking off their own jackets, shirts and hats to keep the man warm in freezing temperatures until paramedics arrived 40 minutes later.
“If they hadn’t been there, it would have been a fatality — there is no doubt in my mind,” said a person at the scene but who requested anonymity.
The man, who police did not identify, was listed in critical condition at a Boston hospital last week. Spokespersons for the Transit Police did not respond to requests for the man’s identity or an update on his condition this week.
“He just jumped!” yelled an MBTA worker as she ran back into the passenger car, according to Hoover’s account to the military.
Hoover said he immediately ran to the front of the car to help the MBTA worker pull the emergency brake.
The four soldiers, who have been stationed at Fort Devens for the past several weeks training for new human-resources positions in the military, were returning from a day off in Boston. They went to the Museum of Science, walked through Faneuil Hall and ate in the North End before boarding the train back to Ayer about 7:50 p.m., on Sunday, Dec. 5.
As the train neared the West Concord station, Hoover said he noticed a female MBTA worker escort an elderly man to the bathroom. When the elderly man and MBTA worker returned a short while later, Hoover noticed a barefoot middle-aged man following them.
Hoover said he overhead the worker ask the barefoot man where his shoes were and explained to him that he needed to stay in the passenger car. Not long after, the frantic MBTA worker ran back to the passenger car where the soldiers were sitting. The man had just jumped.
It was 8:45 p.m. They were in a desolate area between stations near the Littleton stop.
For the next 10 minutes, Hoover said, he tried to convince MBTA workers to allow him and the other soldiers to use their combat medical training to help the man until paramedics arrived.
Finally, the four soldiers were allowed to assist. They sprinted down the gravel and tracks to where the man lay and found MBTA workers aiming a flashlight at his motionless body.
“He had been out there for 10 minutes before we got out there so our main concern was keeping him warm,” said Hoover, a 31-year-old National Guardsman from Wabash, Ind.
The four stripped down to short-sleeved shirts and began packing their warm clothing around the man.
“We took off all our (outer) clothing and wrapped him in it to keep him from going into shock,” said Middleton, a 28-year-old Guardsman from Boiling Springs, S.C.
Vickery, a 23-year-old native of Anderson, S.C., said she took off her hat and applied pressure to a large, bloody gash on the back of the man’s head.
“There was no first-aid kit on the train,” said Vickery.
The four soldiers kept watch over the man for the next half-hour while they waited for rescue workers.
“They were having trouble getting to us. We actually had to signal them,” said Bumgarner, a former Marine from Marshall, Texas, now in the Army Reserves.
When rescue workers finally arrived, Hoover and Middleton helped transport the man into the ambulance. Then they went to Nashoba Valley Medical Center in Ayer for prescription medications to prevent any blood-borne infectious diseases. There were no medical gloves, and they had used their bare hands to treat the bloody man.
The four soldiers say they’ve never had to use their Army emergency medical training before. That may change next year, when Hoover and Middleton deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan. Bumgarner, 32, also expects he’ll be sent to combat areas soon, too.
The four soldiers finished their training and have left Fort Devens, but their mind is on the man they helped keep alive long enough to be flown to a Boston hospital.
“We just wish we knew if he was all right,” Hoover said.
MediaNews reporter Robert Mills contributed to this report.