The story of Dunsmuir resident Eric Ayers’ life-saving efforts, for which he received the Gold Medal of Valor, reads like a Hollywood script.
A Captain for Cal Fire in Susanville, Ayers was presented the state’s highest civilian medal for an act of bravery last week for saving a woman from drowning one year ago.
As Ayers described the situation, Bonnie Hull’s vehicle was taking a curve alongside the Susan River when it hit black ice, rolled 20 feet down an embankment and landed upside-down in the ice-cold water.
Trapped in her seatbelt, upside down, with water quickly filling the pocket of air that remained, Hull managed to call 9-1-1 before her cell phone went dead. 
The same seatbelt that protected her during the fall now imprisoned her. She was unable to unbuckle the belt to release herself. Her defense was to contort her body away from the onslaught of water and hope for rescue. 
As the water rose mercilessly, Ayers received a call about the accident while he was just two blocks away and quickly arrived on the scene.
“There’s a certain protocol that goes into making a rescue: equipment, backup, regulations that help protect rescuers as well as victims,” Ayers said during a recent interview in Dunsmuir. “There wasn’t time for even a personal flotation device.”
Ayers jumped into the river, boots and all, supplied with only his knife. He swam to the hatchback, entered the rear, made his way to Hull and cut her free in the nick of time. Then they scrammed back to shore. 
Ayers and Hull were taken to the hospital to be treated for hypothermia. There were no major injuries.    
Ayers, who commutes to work from Dunsmuir to Susanville by vehicle or by piloting a plane when weather conditions permit, says he loves his job and enjoys living in Dunsmuir for the fishing, kayaking and skiing.
The medal was presented by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who knows a thing or two about Hollywood versions of this scene.