The Truckload Carriers Association recently recognized United Petroleum Transports driver Brian “Brownie” Brown of Eskridge, Kan., as a Highway Angel for rescuing a woman trapped in a burning vehicle. While traveling west on Highway 470 in Topeka, Kan., Brown noticed an SUV about 300 yards ahead of him start to veer back and forth on the road.
Suddenly, the vehicle took a hard right, flew off the road down an embankment, hitting trees in its path, until it crashed violently against some trees and burst into flames. “I was caught in that moment when I wondered if I was going to sleep tonight if I didn’t stop,” Brown says. “I knew she was down there, and no one else was around.”
Brown, who was driving a full fuel tanker, made sure he secured his rig safely off the road and put his flashers on before grabbing his fire extinguisher and running off to help. Another driver who had stopped yelled for Brown to call for emergency help on his cell phone. Brown says he remembered yelling back, “There’s no time for cell phones. Whoever’s in that car right now, we gotta get him out of there quick.”
Brown took off running, hoping the other driver would follow. After maneuvering through broken trees to get to the vehicle, Brown saw the female driver was unconscious, so he pounded on the passenger-side window, not knowing whether or not the woman was alive. Meanwhile, flames engulfed the engine. Brown tried to “buy us some time” by using his extinguisher, “but every time I tried to extinguish the flames, they came back harder,” he says.
Fortunately, the other driver came to assist, and while he pulled open the passenger door to try to remove the woman, Brown continued to attempt to extinguish the flames. Although she was conscious now, the woman couldn’t move her legs, making it difficult for the other gentleman to get her out alone. Brown finally threw down his extinguisher and went to help.
“That was the most terrifying part of it,” Brown says. “Flames were melting the metal, blowing fuel all over the hot exhaust. I smelled the fumes from the burned-out plastic for two days after that.” The two men quickly dragged the woman about 175 to 200 yards and then watched as the flames broke through the dash and enveloped the car. “If we had sat down and made a phone call, she wouldn’t be here today,” Brown says.
Once the paramedics arrived, Brown gave them pertinent information and hurried back to his fuel tanker, which was located far enough from the scene but still was a concern to him. He knew, however, he had done the right thing in stopping. “My wife was in a bad accident about a year ago, so when I saw that happen, I got goose bumps and I knew I had to help,” Brown says.
Brown received a Highway Angel lapel pin, certificate and patch for his efforts, and his employer, United Petroleum Transports, also received a certificate for acknowledging a Highway Angel in their midst. Since its inception in August 1997, the Highway Angel program has recognized hundreds of drivers for the unusual kindness, courtesy and courage they have shown others while on the job. TCA has received letters and e-mails from people across the country nominating truck drivers for the program.
“We continue to be amazed by the number of professional truckers who go out of their way to help a stranger and many times put their lives at risk as well,” says Nancy O’Liddy, director of public affairs and marketing for TCA. “TCA is proud and delighted to offer the kind of program that gives these drivers the recognition and support they deserve, while at the same time creating a greater public awareness and appreciation for the many outstanding drivers in this industry.”