Fort Polk fire inspector prevents child from wandering onto highway

Carlos Jackson, a Fort Polk fire inspector and reserve Airman in the U.S. Air Force, 307th Force Support Squadron, stands in front of a fire truck at Fort Polk's Central Fire Station July 8, 2020. (Angie Thorne/Fort Polk)
July 13, 2020

Fort Polk fire inspectors train for any emergency. So it’s no surprise that even when they aren’t on the job, their training stays with them — no matter the circumstances.

Carlos Jackson, a Fort Polk fire inspector and reserve Airman in the U.S. Air Force, 307th Force Support Squadron, said many people think that firefighters just respond to fires.

“That’s not true. We respond to everything from HAZMAT (hazardous materials) incidents, accidents, calls for medical aid, house fires and more. We are called for any type of emergency that can happen on post,” he said.

Jackson said even when they aren’t on duty, firefighters are ready to step in and render aid.

“There are times when we leave work and might see an accident. We don’t just drive by; we are going to stop and help. We tend to assist in emergencies — no matter the type — that happen outside duty hours,” he said.

Jackson was off duty and headed to workout with friends when he found himself in such a situation. As he was driving along what he describes as a fairly busy highway, Jackson saw a small child in a ditch next to the road. He said he guessed the child was about 3. After scanning the area and verifying that there were no adults with the child, Jackson’s training kicked in and he made the split second decision to turn around and head back to the little one before the child could wade into traffic.

“I knew something wasn’t right. It’s not normal for a child that age to be alone and close to a busy highway. As I watched, the child crossed a ditch filled with water and continued to head toward the road, so I didn’t hesitate. I knew I had to act immediately because, if I didn’t, the possibility of this kid getting hit by a vehicle was high,” he said. “I turned around and headed back to the child on the shoulder of the road facing incoming traffic. I put my emergency lights on and got out of the truck.”

Jackson said he approached the child while trying to wave off oncoming traffic. He said he didn’t want to startle the boy but knew he had to get to him quickly because the child had made it across the ditch and was heading toward the road. Vehicles began honking their horns, and it seemed to startle the child. As a truck was heading their way, the boy started to move quickly and began to dart toward the road as the truck continued to honk.

“He was on the shoulder of the road between the grass and the white line along the edge of the road, and I had to run and grab him before he ran into the street and possibly the truck,” he said.
Now that Jackson had the child in his arms, they both calmed down; but Jackson said he then realized that he didn’t know where the child lived. That’s when he discovered the little one was a special needs child.

“I asked him where he lived and where his parents were. He couldn’t speak clearly. All he was able to do was point to a nearby apartment complex,” he said.

With child in tow and seemingly happy to be along for the ride, Jackson began knocking on doors as he tried to find out where the little boy belonged.

After knocking at four or five different apartments, Jackson said he wasn’t having much luck. None of the people he spoke with knew the child, and he realized that he needed to call the police for additional help.

After the police arrived, Jackson stayed with the child because the little boy seemed comfortable with him.

“When it comes to emergency services, we want to ensure that children warm up to you. We call it ‘establishing a rapport,’” he said.

The police showed up and the group found someone who pointed them in the right direction. They finally found the right apartment, and the little boy’s mother was grateful that her son was found. “She had a big smile on her face and said thank you,” he said.

At that point, Jackson checked with the police, and they confirmed he could leave and continue on his way to work out with friends.

Jackson potentially kept something terrible from happening to that little boy; but being humble, he said he found it a bit difficult to understand why people made a big deal out of what he expects anyone would do. He said it was a rewarding experience, but he thinks it’s a bit crazy that he’s gotten this much recognition.

“I know I prevented a potential fatality. In my job, things don’t always turn out that way. Sometimes we lose them. Keeping someone safe or knowing that I did something good is a great feeling,” he said. “I love my job, and I’m glad that I’m capable of providing that service to those in need.”

Greg Self, Fort Polk Directorate of Emergency Services, Fire and Emergency Services assistant chief, said, as firefighters, his men are held to a higher standard. He’s not surprised that Jackson stepped up and took action.

“We are always looking for ways to keep people safe. It’s a firefighter’s instinct to help people,” he said. “Carlos is no different, it just comes naturally to him.”

Self said he is proud that Jackson did the right thing when it came to helping a child in danger.

“He’s just a good guy that has a love for what he does,” said Self.