Trooper receives Highway Patrol’s highest award for rescue following otter attack
HELENA – Montana Highway Patrol (MHP) Trooper Barb Armstrong today received the Medal of Valor, the agency’s highest award for locating a woman who had been viciously attacked by river otters, providing aid, and guiding a life flight helicopter to their location. MHP Colonel Steve Lavin presided over the ceremony, Attorney General Austin Knudsen presented the award.
To qualify for the award, troopers must show an act of heroism and bravery, knowingly expose themselves to obvious life-threatening peril, or react to a situation without regard for personal safety to effect aid or rescue. In August, Armstrong swam across the river in full uniform and gear, which weighs approximately twenty pounds, carrying an emergency medical services equipment bag and knowing dangerous animals were in the vicinity. Otters can grow up to five feet-long and have a bite roughly equivalent to a German shepherd’s.
“Without regard for her own safety, Trooper Armstrong rushed to assist the injured women, swimming fully loaded with gear across a river with dangerous animals. She used her quick thinking, knowledge of the area, and life-saving skills to get the women to safety,” Attorney General Knudsen said. “Without her efforts, the outcome that day may have been tragic. I’m grateful to Trooper Armstrong and all Highway Patrol troopers who are out on the roads every day and ready to help.”
“Trooper Armstrong has distinguished herself as a valuable member of the Highway Patrol and I couldn’t be prouder to present her with the Medal of Valor,” Colonel Lavin said. “Her actions that day exemplify what it means to be a Montana Highway Patrol trooper and exemplify our core values of service, integrity, and respect.”
On August 2, Trooper Armstrong responded to a call on the Jefferson River near LaHood. The report stated there were three women injured by otters while floating on Madison River. Being familiar with the area, Armstrong responded and contacted the local landowner. Along with a Jefferson Valley emergency medical technician, Armstrong and the property owner carried two large medical bags down railroad tracks to where the landowner thought the injured women might be. Along the way, they encountered two of them, who said the third was stranded on the other side of the river with severe injuries.
While the EMT treated the injuries of the first two women, Armstrong and the landowner crossed the river. Because it was getting dark and the urgent need for the injured woman to receive medical care, Trooper Armstrong entered the water in full gear and proceeded to swim approximately 75 yards across carrying the medical bag. The woman had severe facial injuries and deep lacerations from the otters. She appeared to be going into shock. Shortly after, the life flight crew landed and later stated they would not have been able to find the victim’s location without Armstrong having been present.
Armstrong has been with the Patrol since February 2015 and is currently stationed in Butte as a member of the MHP’s Criminal Interdiction Team. She has previously earned three Hedstrom Awards, which are given to troopers for going above and beyond the call of duty in saving a life.