Colo. FF-medic recognized for work in Space Command, saving life off-duty

North Metro Firefighter-Paramedic Quinn Henson received two commendation medals while being promoted to a major in the Army last month


Jennifer Rios
Broomfield Enterprise, Colo.

BROOMFIELD COUNTY, Colo. — Quinn Henson, who got his Airborne Wings in Army jump school, now has his Space Wings.

Henson was surrounded by family, colleagues and friends Sept. 25 when he was awarded two U.S. Army commendation medals and promoted to major in the Army. A cake that was served after the ceremony featured astronauts with parachutes jumping from satellites down to Earth.

“I joke that I did five static line jumps from a satellite in order to get my Space Wings,” he said. “Obviously that’s not true, but I had fun with my space cake.”

Henson returned Oct. 5 to his full-time role as a firefighter/paramedic at North Metro Fire Rescue District.

Henson, 43, said he didn’t realize until he got involved with this mission what a huge role the Army plays in satellite communications. It was interesting, he said, especially for an end-user of a lot of the systems. In the Army, he used GPS and satellite communications, but didn’t really understand how they worked beyond his pushing a button and being able to talk to someone over the horizon.

On this most recent assignment he learned the other side and how the technology works.

Space, and the operations there, enables so many different things, he said, including applications people wouldn’t be able to do even a few years ago. Instead of getting directions from someone at the gas station, people can use Google Maps to chart trips and, even more critically, calculate timing. It allows for precision in banking and credit card transactions as well as satellite communication for military units.

Henson served as the Regional Satellite Communications Support Center Executive Officer for the U.S. Army Satellite Operations Brigade for 15 months and was based out of Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. During his active duty service, Henson worked to centralize and strengthen satellite communications for civilian communications and military operations as part of a larger mission supporting the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, according to a news release from North Metro Fire.

Space Command was formed about a year ago and a few months later Space Force was formed.

While Henson said he has no background in hard science or math, the training was very thorough and he was able to get up to speed with lots of on-the-job training and experience. This last assignment was unique because it had “all kinds of people from different branches” within the Army who brought something to the table.

“Our brigade has been supporting Space Command, which is a combatant command similar to other combatant commands,” Henson said. “The difference is that the other combatant commands are focused on war fighting in a terrestrial domain. Our focus is outside of the Earth. The intent is to keep space as a peaceful domain used by all for the better of mankind.”

Keeping people safe has been a constant in Henson’s life.

When he was about 13, Henson was a paper boy in Illinois. He remembers a particular freezing day in February when he walked up to a house to toss a newspaper and noticed a man lying on the ground. At first, Henson thought the man had died, but it turned out he had slipped and fallen on the ice and wasn’t able to get inside.

It was before everyone had a cell phone, Henson said, and there was no way to call for help, so he assisted the man the best he could. He remembered thinking had the man gone into cardiac arrest, he wouldn’t know what to do, so Henson took a CPR class. That turned into an EMT course at the local community college, so he could help if he happened to pull up to a car collision or injured person in the wilderness.

As he got older, Henson volunteered as a firefighter and EMT, then trained to be a paramedic, which he did to support himself financially through undergraduate studies. He got an advanced degree and then took time off to figure out next steps in life. Henson had never served in the military, but it was something he always wanted to do, so he decided it was his last, best opportunity to enlist.

From 2009 to 2014, he served as an infantry officer and was deployed to Kunar Province, Afghanistan. Those five years of serving was an incredible experience, he said, and he is grateful for all the things he was able to experience, such as “jumping out of a C-130 at midnight into the dark abyss.”

“There’s a million things like that you get to do in the military you don’t get to do anywhere else,” he said, and share that experience with the people you serve alongside.

After his tour in Afghanistan, he joined the Army Reserves and was hired by North Metro Fire as a firefighter/paramedic in 2014. He considers it the best job because he has the ability every day to be there for people in their time of need. It’s a fulfilling job and North Metro Fire is a good fit, he said. Henson said he works with wonderful people with “top-notch integrity” and feels like they make a difference.

At the Sept. 25 ceremony, Henson was also honored with a medal for his bravery and service to help save the life of a mountain biker on Labor Day last year.

On a last-minute mountain biking trip from Colorado Springs to Winter Park, Henson found himself on a chairlift with a traveling salesman from Texas, whom he chatted with and volunteered to ride with, sticking to mainly blue routes, which are considered mid-range difficulty. Henson, an experienced biker, would normally have gone down more difficult runs.

When the two went to a more advanced blue run, they missed a turn and ended at a trail head where they stopped to catch their breath and decided to tackle a black run. Shortly after they came upon a group of people who were waving them down to help an injured mountain biker, Matt Brignola.

Had they taken a shorter break, they wouldn’t have made it in time to help, Henson said, and wouldn’t have even known about the accident. Because of the severity of Brignola’s already life-threatening injuries, had they been 60 seconds later, the injury would have been much more severe, Henson said. Winter Park’s bike patrol was called and Flight for Life was called.

Brignola, who was wearing protective gear, had an injury that caused his airway to close, Henson said, which was the biggest concern because the brain can only go a short period of time before someone has lifelong injuries. Henson had a first-aid pack in his backpack and administered what aid he could, he said, but the bike patrol response was “amazing,” and they got to them in about two minutes.

They assisted in treating Brignola and coordinated his evacuation, which started with a stretcher equipped with off-road wheels and shock absorbers, Henson said. They ran him down a mile and a half down the trail on the stretcher and got to a vehicle that transported him to an emergency room at the resort. From there he was taken via Flight for Life to Denver Health Medical Center and after several months was transferred to Craig Hospital.

“The biggest part of this is despite Matt having life-threatening injuries, his strive to recover,” Henson said. “His human spirit has just been unstoppable.”

The two have stayed in touch and still plan hikes together. Henson is amazed by Brignola who recently spoke fluent German to Henson’s wife and has detailed discussions about Elon Musk and advanced technology.

“He hasn’t made a complete recovery, but it’s only a matter of time,” Henson said.

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©2020 the Broomfield Enterprise (Broomfield, Colo.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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