It’s been two days since Orland Clark helped pull a man out of a burning vehicle after a two-vehicle crash near Nackawic, N.B., and now that the shock’s beginning to wear off, he says he knows one thing:
“I just know that I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
Clark, 53, who has worked for Optimum Ride Charter Service for about a year now, was driving a group of high school students and their chaperones back to their schools from an overnight class trip Saturday.
He had just dropped off a group of students and adults at Nackawic High School, and was heading back onto the Trans Canada Highway to go to the next high school drop-off, when he came across a crash near Route 105.
“I noticed an orange glow down by the road,” he recalled.
“I said to one of the teachers, “There’s a fire ahead. That’s not good. I hope it’s not an accident.'”
But it was.
He says another car of passersby, including a nurse, had already stopped to help.
A man and woman had to be extricated from one vehicle. A male passenger from the second vehicle, which was on fire, had already been pulled out but the driver was trapped in his seat.
“There was a woman and her husband on site. They had already gotten the passenger of the women’s car out and she was still inside. She had a broken leg. She couldn’t move and they couldn’t open the door but her car wasn’t on fire and the other one was and it was burning quite severely,” he said.
Clark says he parked his bus, with about a dozen students and their adult chaperones, a safe distance away. Then he ran out with his fire extinguisher, along with a teacher and a parent.
He made a beeline for the burning vehicle.
“The flames were quite severe coming out of the engine compartment at this time,” he said.
“It was too hot to even try and open the door.”
Clark used the extinguisher to keep the flames at bay. It was at that point, he saw the driver’s arm wedged between the window frame and another piece of metal.
“I couldn’t even see him. The airbags had gone off,” he said. “I could see that his hand was jammed in between the window frame of his windshield and his hand had been jammed out there from the elbow out in the flames that whole time.”
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Clark says the young man, who is in his 20s, was clearly in pain and that it was “horrific.”
Time was of the essence at this point, as the fire grew and flames began to whip around the vehicle again.
“I had to get him out of there now because the flames were coming back,” he said. “I don’t know how but my fingertips fit over the top of the glass somehow. Somehow I got my fingers over top the glass and I pulled as hard as I could and it shattered.”
A dog quickly jumped out of the car at that moment, as Clark pulled the man’s head out of the smoke. He couldn’t get the man out any further, however, because his arm was still stuck.
The teacher, the parent and the nurse all came and pulled the man out. They then carried him out of the burning vehicle.
Clark says the whole incident happened quickly, and first responders arrived about seven minutes later.
After leaving their contact information with police, Clark, the teacher and parent all got back on the bus and continued on their journey to Fredericton High School and Kennebecasis Valley High School.
He says the rescue was the result of teamwork, and stresses that credit is shared between all those who stopped to help, as well as the first responders.
He has since been in touch with the young man’s parents, and plans to visit the man in hospital in Fredericton once he is ready for visitors.
“They’re extremely grateful. Words can’t even begin to say how they must be feeling. I can only imagine myself,” he said.
He notes the schools have offered counselling for the students on the bus and that he himself has been trying to decompress since the incident.
“I’m just thankful that he at least has a chance in life. I hope that for whatever reason it happened, that he’ll look back one day and hopefully it’ll make him a better man somehow.”
Parent praising Clark
Katie Bowden, whose son is a Grade 10 student at Kennebecasis Valley High School and was on the bus during the incident, is praising Clark for his quick thinking and bravery.
When her son told her what had transpired on that journey home from the school trip, she wrote a Facebook post to bring attention to Clark’s actions.
“As a parent, whenever I put my kid on a bus to go on a bus trip, I cross my fingers and I think, ‘Gee I really hope they’re going to be safe,” she said.
“Here was a bus driver who knew what to do and had the bravery and confidence to do it in a stressful situation and that gives me a lot of confidence and makes me feel a lot better about putting my kid on a bus.”