Robert Barron column: There are heroes among us

The five men who I saw bundled up and sped away in ambulances tried their best to save him

A number of Vancouver Island RCMP officers were recently recognized with Awards of Valour.

The highest award that police officers are able to attain, these were handed out at a ceremony in Victoria on Nov. 21. Among them were five Duncan officers for their successful efforts to rescue the woman trapped in an unstable vehicle that was in danger of sliding into the Cowichan River.

These officers work and train hard to ensure they are the best they can be when facing difficult situations that require keeping a cool head, using skills acquired and being unafraid to take necessary risks.

Many call that bravery, and hats off to these officers for saving that women’s life.

I’ve seen similar instances of heroism in my time as a news reporter.

One such incident happened one cold winter’s day about 10 years ago when I was working with the Nanaimo Daily News.

A report came into the newsroom of a car that had careened over the embankment next to the Pearson Bridge in downtown Nanaimo and had ended up in the middle of the Millstone River.

By the time I arrived, police, fire truck and ambulance crews were there and I could see they were wrapping several men in blankets and rushing them away to the hospital, and I wondered just how many people were in the car.

It turns out there was only one; an elderly man who either had a medical issue, or slid off the iced up road while attempting to cross the bridge.

The five men who I saw bundled up and sped away in ambulances tried their best to save him, but had failed.

The story I got was that a number of motorists saw the car take the plunge down the embankment and ran down the hill to help.

Apparently, the car floated in the water for a few minutes and the elderly driver was screaming for help before the car completely sank in the deep river.

The first guy down the hill dove into the freezing water fully clothed, swam to the car and began trying to break the car window.

Some of the other men had arrived and, seeing that the first guy was having trouble freeing the man from the car, they collected rocks and also jumped fully clothed into the water and made their way to the car.

By this time, the car had slid under the water and then the would-be rescuers began diving after it.

By the time emergency personnel arrived, the men had been in the water for some time, but refused orders from the rescue crews to swim back to shore and continued their efforts.

They literally had to be dragged from the water before they collapsed from exposure and exhaustion, and all of them had to be rushed to the hospital themselves.

These men, who were completely unknown to each other until that day, put their own lives at severe risk and worked together in a frantic, but unsuccessful, effort to save the elderly gentleman in the car, who they also didn’t know.

Probably unknown even to themselves that morning, the men were heroes, and they were recognized with medals from search and rescue groups a few months later.

I just hope there’s people around like that the next time I drive off a cliff.



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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