Secret Service officers respond to fatal lightning strike in Lafayette Square

Emergencies can happen anywhere at any time and help isn’t always nearby, but people with medical training were able to respond nearly immediately to Thursday’s deadly lightning strike in D.C.’s Lafayette Square, located across from the White House.

A lightning strike that some said sounded like a bomb going off critically injured four people who were standing at a cluster of trees southeast of the iconic Gen. Marquis de Lafayette statue on Thursday. By Friday, officials said three of the four injured during the storm had died.

“That’s unfortunate,” said Capt. Jean-Philippe Charles with the Secret Service Uniformed Division White House Branch. He was the watch commander on duty when the lightning hit.

“We had well over 20 Uniformed Division officers up there rendering aid, which included some of our EMTs,” Charles said.

“All of our uniformed division personnel all undergo emergency medicine training when they go through the academy. And then, during their careers, they continue to go to in-service emergency medicine training. And then, we have others who go above and beyond that and get certified as EMTs,” he said.

Among those who responded were members of the canine unit and officers on vehicle, bike and foot patrols, and even people who should have been on breaks.

As the rain poured and lightning continued flashing in the area, Charles said they all responded to perform CPR, utilize AEDs, and clear the square for D.C. first responders.

“Critical incidents are, unfortunately, nothing new to me,” he said, adding that officers respond to medical emergencies in and around the White House complex almost on a daily basis.

Charles, who has been with the Secret Service since 2011, was an active duty member of the U.S. Marines for eight years. He called himself a huge advocate for training and equipping officers with what they need so that when the time comes, they’re able to do their jobs and react instinctively.

“I think everybody was dialed in yesterday. They were focused; they were operating as a team. They were communicating well. By the time I got up there, they were doing what they were supposed to be doing. I couldn’t be more happy with the response and the efforts that they displayed yesterday.

Because of the nature of the critical incident, Charles said that after everything was over, he requested a chaplain and a representative of the employee assistance program come to debrief the officers.

“So, once we’ve taken care of the public who needed our aid, now I have to take care of my officers,” Charles said.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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