Bookmark and Share

John R. McGowan


Coast Guard Medal

See more recipients of this award

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Coast Guard Medal to Ensign John R. McGowan, United States Coast Guard, for extraordinary heroism on the afternoon of 10 May 2002 when he rescued the driver of a burning car on Interstate 40 in Belcamp, Maryland. Cut off by a tractor-trailer, the car became jammed underneath the trailer and caught fire. The fire quickly spread to the tractor-trailer where approximately 200 bottles of Clorox bleach ruptured, adding toxic fumes to the smoke. Despite the toxic smoke and the proximity of flames, Ensign McGowan immediately stopped his vehicle and ran to help extract the driver and passenger from the burning car. While the passenger was easily removed, the driver's legs were trapped underneath the steering wheel column. In order to free the driver, Ensign McGowan worked with other rescuers to pry open the driver's side door and force the seat back. As it became clear the driver could not be extracted through that method, Ensign McGowan recommended that the tractor-trailer be moved off the car. As soon as this was accomplished, flames began to spread more rapidly and the car battery exploded. At great risk to his own life, he pulled the injured man from the crushed car. As soon as he and his fellow rescuers extracted the victim, the car exploded into flames. Once in an area of safety, Ensign McGowan, a prior paramedic, assumed the role of medical incident commander, assessing the condition of the victims and directing others to stabilize their wounds. Due to the seriousness of the injuries, Ensign McGowan continued to treat the victims until they were safely transported to the medical helicopter. Without Ensign McGowan's decisive and courageous actions to rescue and stabilize the victims, both the driver and the passenger of the car would have perished. Ensign McGowan demonstrated remarkable initiative, exceptional fortitude, and daring in spite of imminent personal danger. His courage and devotion to duty are most heartily commended and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard.

General Orders: U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office

Action Date: 10-May-02

Service: Coast Guard

Rank: Ensign