Calif. sisters, 15 and 17, use skills learned at FD camp to aid crash victims

Ashely Roa, 15, and Stephanie Roa, 17, were presented Certificates of Heroism, the highest recognition for civilians presented by the Orange County Fire Authority


Eric Licas
The Orange County Register

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — A four-door sedan raced past Sandra Roa and her family on the 710 Freeway, then struck another vehicle and a concrete barrier before rolling over at least twice. Her daughters, 15-year-old Ashley and 17-year-old Stephanie, told her to pull over, she said in Spanish, as interpreted by another daughter, Bianca.

Her husband and their two eldest children called 911 at about 9 p.m. on Sept. 19, 2020, then stepped out onto dimly lighted lanes. They spotted a man bleeding in the roadway just a few feet from where they had parked. He was conscious, but in too much pain to speak as Stephanie administered first-aid to him, she told reporters Thursday, April 8.

Ashley searched the area using her cellphone as a flashlight, and rushed to help another badly injured person who was lying on the freeway and surrounded by a few stunned adults. A bystander supplied the sisters with bandages, and they managed to stop the bleeding of the two men who had been ejected from the overturned vehicle.

That collision in Long Beach was the first time Ashley or Stephanie had ever been at the scene of a crisis. But they didn't panic, didn't hesitate, and likely saved two people's lives.

In recognition of their actions, they were handed Certificates of Heroism during a ceremony held Thursday at Orange County Fire Authority Station 61 in Buena Park. The awards are the highest level of recognition the agency can give to civilians.

"No, we don't feel like heroes," Stephanie said. "We're more thankful, knowing we have the skills to do what's needed in an emergency."

The sisters learned first-aid and a host of other potentially life-saving techniques while attending the OCFA's Girl's Empowerment Camp in 2019. The annual event gives teens between the ages of 14 and 18 a hands-on glimpse of what it takes to become a firefighter, and is designed to bolster their self-esteem with lessons that will carry them into adulthood.

The Roa sisters learned about the OCFA's camp through their involvement with the United States Cadet Corps, Col. Jack Thomas said. He heads the Long Beach chapter of the youth program, and said he was introduced to the teens about four years ago by their father, who "wanted to make sure his girls could take care of themselves."

Well within the four years, they went from being quiet, shy girls to actually "being my personal bodyguards in the program," Thomas said.

The two teens are both straight-A students, Thomas said. Ashley said she is considering a career as either a paramedic or a clinician. Her older sister hopes to enter law enforcement and dreams of joining the FBI. The two sisters are constantly seeking skills that will advance their goals, Thomas and Sandra Roa said.

It's never too early to learn how to handle an emergency, Rina Sandoval said. The Buena Park woman suffers from epilepsy, and taught her son, Travis Navarro how to use 911 at an early age. Those lessons helped him remain calm when his mother collapsed while suffering a seizure on Jan. 26, 2021.

OCFA chief Brian Fennessy applauded the boy's demeanor before presenting him with a letter of commendation during Thursday's ceremony. Sandoval was astonished by the way her son calmly relayed details as she listened to an excerpt of his conversation with dispatchers for the first time.

"Oh my God I can't believe that's my son!" she said Thursday. "That's my son! I'm so proud of him."

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(c)2021 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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