On April 20, Marquette Department of Public Safety officer Daniel Hernandez rescued two people from a fatal car accident between a bus and an SUV on N. 20th St. and W. Highland Ave. The 27-year-old former Marine and Los Angeles native sat down for an interview with the Tribune to recall his actions that day.
The Marquette Tribune: What were you doing when you first received news of the crash?
Daniel Hernandez: I was patrolling the Marquette area when I was flagged down right at the 900 block of 20th Street by a resident not affiliated with Marquette.
MT: What was your first reaction to the crash?
DH: I immediately called for more assistance. I saw the accident, got on the radio and called my dispatch. I said, “Hey, send me more officers and contact the Milwaukee Police and Fire Department,” and then I mentioned it was an accident with a vehicle on fire. I positioned my squad to block the eastbound traffic, and I just ran.
MT: What was going through your mind while this was going on?
DH: Nothing. Nothing was going through my head. If anything, the only thing was to get in there and help.
MT: Can you describe what happened when you went inside the bus?
DH: I saw smoke and visible flames (coming from the SUV). I see the bus over here and figure there are going to be more people in it, maybe more kids, so I chose that.
As soon as I got close to it, there was a Marquette employee, who was out there already, and he was the one who told me there are people in there, and I had already heard some cries from the bus.
Basically, I went around the front end, saw the door and just moved it and went inside. The Marquette employee followed me and was right behind me. I saw the kid and saw the woman, and they were both pretty banged up and in bad shape, and I just started getting them out. It was smoldering. Apparently, from what I heard, there was smoke. I just remember (smoke) coming from the engine, and I figured the last thing I need is for this thing is to catch fire.
Because of that, I pulled them out. I helped assist with the kid, and then the woman; I grabbed her, or she grabbed me, and I walked backwards out. Because I didn’t know if there was anyone else in there, I went one more time inside, and I went through all the aisles to make sure there were no more kids. I then opened the emergency exit and jumped out.
By that time, you could see the SUV, the fire and three public safety officers extinguishing the fire. I went straight to my squad, pulled out two more fire extinguishers, ran over, gave one to my corporal and then we started extinguishing the fire. As we were extinguishing the fire, one of the officers grabbed the female who was in the SUV’s arm to see if she had a pulse, thinking maybe we had a faint pulse. But from what I was told, it may have just been our adrenaline, as she was already deceased.
MT: How does teamwork factor into DPS’ effectiveness?
DH: It’s our job. When we get called, no matter what type of call it is, whether it be to open a door, whether it be for a transport, whether it be for an armed robbery, it doesn’t matter: We always respond. And we respond pretty quickly. We’re there in 30 seconds or less, because we’re so close. There are a lot of phenomenal people that work here, and, at least on my shift, I’m very grateful for the people who I work with.
MT: Although the crash did not involve anyone associated with Marquette, DPS still worked to help those affected. What role in the community do you see DPS playing outside of just Marquette?
DH: You look at the squad (car) and it says public safety on there. People see an armed officer with a shield and if they need help they’re going to flag you down. I see the officers here as first responders. If we see something, we have a direct link to the Milwaukee Police Department and the Fire Department, so we can get them out here. We serve Marquette, but at the same time, we are out on the streets every single day with the community. It’s not just students who live in this area. With that, we’re happy to help. If they need assistance, by all means they can flag us down, and we can direct them to the right direction.
MT: What misconceptions do you think students have about DPS officers?
DH: The funniest thing about this job is when we get called to a party, right away you get that happy look to the frown look. “Uh oh, DPS.” Just know we’re out there to help. If we’re stopping you, we’re stopping you for a reason, because you’re either doing something that’s going to get you into a lot of trouble, or something really bad is going on for me to go ahead and stop you. Just don’t be afraid of DPS. Be honest and grateful DPS is around. They do a lot for the community.
MT: How do you react when people call you a hero?
DH: I’m not a hero. To me, it’s what is expected. It’s what’s expected of a police officer; it’s what’s expected of a firefighter; it’s what’s expected of a first responder. Not heroic.
I’m a public safety officer — they give me a gun, they give me a bulletproof vest, they give me a shield. I’m out there to protect. I’m out there to serve the people, whether it be a student or a community member. I have no question in my mind that a lot of these officers are capable of doing everything and anything. But I don’t see it as a hero at all. To me, a hero is someone who gave their life serving their country — that’s a hero to me.