“Other Coasties would have done the same,” said LT Kenneth “Wayne” Miller as he reflected on his rescue of a man trapped in a vehicle fire.
On July 16, Miller, one of the thousands of reservists who have been called to active duty for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response effort, was driving across the Dauphin Island Bridge off the coast of Alabama from a work site to a planning meeting when he noticed traffic slowing ahead.
He stopped, got out of his car and saw a vehicle on fire. From a distance, as the smoke and flames were building, it was hard to see if there were any passengers inside.
As he ran towards the car, he realized an unresponsive person was trapped inside with the windows up and the doors locked.
Immediately, he yelled out for someone to call 911 and then began working to free the trapped man with the help of other good Samaritans.
“I remember thinking I couldn’t get in, and I was running out of time, so I just had to give it one more shot,” said Miller.
Miller attempted to kick in the windows multiple times, but they wouldn’t break.
Racing against the clock, Miller ran to a pickup truck several cars ahead. Amongst the construction items in the truck, he found an aluminum pipe which easily shattered the windows. Miller along with the other good Samaritans began trying to figure out how to pull the unresponsive driver out of the car.
“It was so hot that you couldn’t reach in six inches to undo the door latches,” he said.
As Miller worked to rescue the man, other good Samaritans tried to put the fire out. They used fire extinguishers from nearby cars and poured coolers filed with ice onto the building flames.
Eventually, Miller was able to get a clear view of the driver and realized he was struggling to breathe.
Because the fire was so hot at the front of the car, Miller made several attempts to pull the trapped man out from the backseat unsuccessfully. At the risk of his own safety, he went to try the driver’s side door. Realizing the door would be too hot, another good Samaritan found a pair of leather gloves which Miller used to open the door.
Despite suffering mild burns of his own, Miller was able to release the driver from his seat belt, remove him from the seat, and carry him away from the burning car with the assistance of other good Samaritans.
“Seconds after we pulled the man out, the car was engulfed in flames bumper to bumper,” said Miller.
As local police and fire showed up, the once unresponsive driver became conscious and was able to speak.
Tragically, after being cared for at a local hospital, the man succumbed to his injuries one week later. Despite the sorrowful ending to a heroic tale, the man will forever be a part of Miller’s thoughts as the traumatic event left an indelible mark on his life.
“He inspired me for the rest of my life because he pushed through that pain, that incredible pain,” Miller said.
Do you know a Coastie that has done something great for the service, the missions or the public? Please submit your nominations for Guardian of the Week using the submit link on the right.