Passing firefighter pulls motorist to safety

Gene Eagle
Putting his own life at risk, CAL FIRE Captain Bob Chesnick, left, pulled an unconscious traffic accident victim from a burning vehicle just seconds before it was fully engulfed in flames. Others responding to the accident were McCloud Station CAL FIRE Captain Engine 2659, Harper Keene; the McCloud Fire Department’s Assistant Chief Ben Garcia, and McCloud Chief Rick Dexter. “I was certainly glad to see them arrive,” said Chesnick. “I have no doubt that the quick actions of Chesnick saved the life of this man,” said Chief Dexter.

Thanks to an observant motorist’s quick thinking, an unconscious McCloud man was rescued from his burning vehicle after colliding with a tree.

According to a California High Patrol press release, on Saturday June 30, 2012 at approximately 9:30 p.m., the 2006 Chevrolet Silverado being driven by Timothy Maurice Cain, 44, of McCloud, left the east roadway of the northbound lane on SR-89, just north of Vista Point. The vehicle traveled on the east shoulder, then Cain overcorrected, lost control, rotated in a counter clockwise direction and crossed both lanes, according to the report. The right side of the vehicle collided with a tree on the west shoulder of SR-89 and came to a rest on its wheels facing a north easterly direction.

CAL FIRE Captain Robert Chesnick of Etna happened to be passing through saw headlamps off the roadway and debarking on a tree near the vehicle. He stopped and noticed smoke coming from the vehicle.

Chesnick extricated the unconscious driver shortly before the vehicle became fully engulfed in flames. Chesnick provided medical aid to Cain until he was transported to Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta for treatment of severe lacerations to his face and head.

The driver was placed under arrest for driving under the influence.

Chesnick, 40, said in an interview that it was luck that he was there at the right time and able to assist.

“Luck... because I just happened to get off work early that night,” he said.

Employed as a seasonal Captain with CAL FIRE at the Happy Camp Station in the Lassen-Modoc-Plumas Unit, Chesnick was on his way home to Etna.

While traveling just north of Vista Point on Highway 89, Chesnick said he noticed headlights off the roadway that didn’t look right. As described by Chesnick, he slowed down and also noticed a debarked tree that looked like it had been struck by a vehicle. Turning around and going back he saw a pickup truck about 15 feet off the roadway with damage to the passenger side. He grabbed his flashlight, went to the vehicle that was still running and with his hand radio called Yreka ECC to start a dispatch. Chesnick opened the driver’s side door and noticed an unconscious man laying across the front seat.

“I turned off the ignition and tried to arouse him,” said Chesnick. “I shook him several times but there was no response. He was breathing and had a pulse.”

Chesnick said he then opened the door on the passenger side and noticed the man had severe facial and head injuries, so he called for medical support.

“While assessing for any other injuries, I smelled smoke and noticed a fire had started beneath the truck between the cab and bed. Then I saw smoke coming from the engine compartment,” Chesnick said. “I tried to arouse him again, but still got no response. Then I heard a loud “whoof,” and flames started coming into the cab.”

Chesnick described the sound as one you would hear when you throw a lit match on a barbecue.

“That’s when I really became concerned and knew I had to get him out of there,” he said.

Chesnick said he was able to position the man’s head on his shoulder, grab his waist from the back, pull him from the burning vehicle, and drag him about 15 feet to the roadway.

“By then the cab of the truck was pretty much enveloped in flames,” he said.

Chesnick said the man began responding and asking questions as McCloud Station CAL FIRE and McCloud Fire Department units arrived on scene to start basic care of Cain and extinguish the flames.

Mt. Shasta ambulance transported Cain to Mercy Mt. Shasta for further treatment.

“The surprising thing about all this is that I passed at least six vehicles coming southbound who obviously did not see the accident,” Chesnick said. “The vehicle with the headlights still on was not obscured by brush and was highly visible from the road, and when I was extricating him out of the vehicle three cars passed by. One car did stop and asked if an ambulance was called. When I said yes, the car sped away.”

Chesnick said the response of resources to the accident was rapid, with McCloud Fire and Ambulance, and CAL FIRE people on scene within about seven minutes of the dispatch call.