Every day, TSA officers humbly serve and protect the traveling public – often going above and beyond their traditional job duties. When emergencies happen at the airport, TSA’s frontline workforce does not hesitate to help.
TSA Officer Christian Schack is a proud volunteer EMT, knowing his medical skill set provides people essential care during their most vulnerable moments. But he also acknowledges and bears the weight that not everyone can be saved, even with the right equipment on hand.
It is the harsh reality many first responders experience on the job, and for Schack, it’s a natural part of his EMT duties outside of his TSA career.
Schack’s two worlds collided when a man collapsed outside of Niagara Falls International Airport’s entrance.
“I've never had this actually happen to me at an airport,” Schack said. “I'm an EMT and firefighter for a volunteer fire company. I'm very used to dealing with these types of situations outside of work.”
After hearing about the emergency, Schack rushed outside and saw a police officer doing chest compressions on a passenger.
“I ran over. I wanted to make sure an AED was in play. I didn't know what agency was there, but it turned out it was a Niagara County Sheriff’s deputy doing CPR, and he already had an AED out,” Schack recalled. “I told him to keep going, and I would be right back because my car was parked about 200 yards away with my medic bag inside.”
Returning with his equipment, Schack and the deputy prepared to use the AED.
“I'm an American Heart Association instructor, and I teach this stuff outside of work. I know the protocols like the back of my hand,” Schack said.
As the scene unfolded, Supervisor TSA Officer Maria Homberger heard panicked cries from the front of the airport. An Allegiant Air employee frantically banged on the checkpoint glass, shouting that someone needed help.
Like Schack, Homberger ran toward the scene. There, she found a woman in a wheelchair next to the man receiving CPR. It was the man’s wife, who couldn’t do anything but watch.
“When I saw Schack and a Niagara County Sheriff’s deputy attending to the down passenger, I knew the person was in good hands,” Homberger said. “I assessed the situation and knew I would not be of any assistance with lifesaving measures, so I immediately turned my attention to the crying woman.”
She recognized the situation was dire and encouraged the woman to move away from the scene.
“In that moment, I relied on my TSA training, engaging her in conversation while remaining calm,” Homberger said. “I asked open-ended questions regarding her relationship to the gentleman and about her itinerary for the night. This helped her relax, and I was able to comfort her in a time of need. I drew her a few feet away from the scene so she did not have to witness what was happening and assured her that they were doing everything they could for her husband.”
Homberger offered whatever comfort she could to the woman who needed kindness and compassion during the terrible ordeal.
Despite Schack and the deputy’s attempts, the AED was not effective, and the team resumed CPR. As other local first responders arrived on the scene, Schack identified himself as an EMT and an assistant fire chief.
Their efforts approached the 30-minute mark when they finally found a viable pulse, and the man was transported by ambulance to a local hospital.
“It was a big, big team effort. That's the main thing that really comes out of it. Everybody was on the same page, and everybody knew what everybody else was doing,” Schack said.
The team later learned the man did not survive the medical emergency. However, Schack reflected on the situation and felt proud knowing the team did everything in their power to help.
“When we first started, the man was not breathing. His heart was not beating. And because we worked so well as a team, everyone from the Niagara County Sheriff's Department to the police officers to the responding medical team, he left the terminal with a pulse and was able to get to the hospital. We gave him a fighting chance to get to that higher level of care,” Schack said.
As an American Heart Association instructor, Schack knows the importance of being CPR-certified when someone is experiencing a medical emergency.
“I wish more people would go and get training on their own and be able to respond to situations that come up like this in the blink of an eye,” Schack said. “In this case, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right knowledge and the right equipment.”
By Kimberlyn G Pepe, Strategic Communications and Public Affairs