Bravery on display

Published 10:03 pm Monday, April 8, 2013

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words.

In the case of photos taken by a Virginia State Police spokeswoman of a daring rescue above the chilly waters of the James River on Monday morning, most of those words would be about the bravery and selflessness of the area’s firefighters.

The driver of a tractor trailer was trapped in the cab of her vehicle following an accident on the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel before 9 a.m. The truck had smashed into the side of the bridge and caught fire. In the aftermath, the cab hung precariously over the side of the bridge, dangling above the river.

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Firefighters and rescue personnel from Suffolk and Newport News responded to the scene, along with State Police officers, and a rescue was mounted. But with the driver stuck inside the cab and the cab hanging well below the safe reach of the rescuers, this would not be a run-of-the-mill extrication, assuming there even is such a thing.

With a Suffolk ladder truck on hand, rescuers settled upon a solution. They would extend the boom of the ladder as near as they could to the driver-side door from the opposite lanes of the bridge. But even that wouldn’t get firefighters close enough to retrieve the driver.

Finally, a Newport News firefighter was strapped into a harness and lowered to the driver’s level by a rope tied to the boom of the ladder. He was then able to give the woman a life vest, pull her through her window, tie her to his harness and then hang onto her while both were lifted free of the wreckage and deposited onto what must at the time have felt like the promised land of the bridge.

The entire rescue, which was over by 10:30 a.m., was recorded on video and in photographs by emergency officials.

Firefighters are well known for their bravery. It’s not every day, though, that such bravery is put on display for all to see.