Andy Billups just happened to have gained experience as a combat zone firefighter/medic while he was serving as a civilian contractor in Iraq.
The Edmond businessman just happened to have a friend with a place on Grand Lake where he has been viewing Independence Day fireworks for a number of years, and he just happened to be there July 4.
And he just happened to be relaxing on a hammock when he heard a some kids making a commotion.
Located two blocks east of Disney on State Highway 28 in the foothills of the Ozark Mountain Range in northeast Oklahoma, the 59,000-plus surface acre Grand Lake is known for its state parks, marinas, restaurants, motels and fishing.
Each year, Grand Lakes Fireworks brings together area businesses, civic organizations, visitors, families and individuals to produce one of the largest shows on water. Independence Day makes the lake a very busy place.
At about 4:30 p.m., not long after he began relaxing at his buddy’s lakehouse in the hammock, Billups heard a lot of screaming. At first, he couldn’t tell what was happening.
“Then I could hear, ‘Call 911,’” Billups said. “I could hear fear in that kid’s voice.”
When he saw a speed boat pulling up to the dock and a bunch of teenagers in the area, Billups got up and headed that way, hoping it wasn’t anything too serious. He had no idea what he was about to encounter.
Behind the speed boat was a young man face down on a large inner tube. Youth nearby were frantic, saying the injured boy was going to die. Billups could see the injured youth was missing part of his right leg — due to a boat prop accident — from about three or four inches just below the knee.
“The first thing that went through my head was, ‘This is bad, but we can manage this,” said Billups, who owns the Victory Boxing Club located near the Waterloo Road-Broadway intersection.
In Iraq, where he worked from 2005-09 in areas from Baghdad on north including Mosul, the second largest city in the country, Billups encountered a lot of personnel with trauma while he was serving as a medic-trained firefighter contractor at a support hospital.
“I turned around and I was in Iraq again,” he said.
His training kicked in. He told the youth’s friends they had to pull themselves together. He knew they had to get the teen on the dock, put him on a flat surface, put a tourniquet on him.
He went in the boathouse where he found about a 2-foot piece of rope and tied it off about three times. Billups was even thinking about the lad’s future prosthetic, thinking he had to save the knee.
When the victim said he was going to die, Billups looked at the young man and said this is bad, but he had seen worse wounds in Iraq and this can be managed.
“What I tried to do was continue to keep him encouraged and keep him awake,” Billups said. “That was my main focus. I wanted him to just keep on fighting the shock.”
Billups worked to prevent the victim from going into shock, elevated his legs, kept him focused on staying awake by asking him questions like “Where do you live?”
He was a tough kid, Billups said. He drifted into semi-unconscious states, but not fully unconscious.
The bleeding stopped; Billups estimated he arrived a matter of minutes after the accident occurred. First responders with the Grand River Dam Authority, the Lakemont Shores Fire Department and an emergency medical services crew arrived, Billups said.
The victim had good vitals when he was transported from a nearby field by medical helicopter for about a 30-minute flight to a hospital in Joplin, Mo., Billups said. The victim had survived the initial period when things can make a turn for the worse.
“I was confident that that kid was gonna make it,” Billups said.
Billups said when the victim’s appreciative father called to thank him, he learned the boy had been through several surgeries but was doing okay. Billups told the father firefighters are just trained to respond to this kind of emergency.
Thanks to Billups’ actions, the victim had a good chance of surviving. He is just glad that he had all of the medical training he used.
“I was just an off-duty firefighter who just happened to be somewhere and happened to know what to do,” Billups said, evading any notion of heroism. “You see stories like that all the time... It was almost like everything led to that moment.”
Billups said he was just doing his job.
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