Firefighter just off duty jumped in; others joined
“We pride ourselves in saying we’re always going to step up to the plate.” Chief Gerald C. Tarleton, St. George Fire Department
DENHAM SPRINGS — An off-duty firefighter who climbed into a burning car to rescue an unconscious motorist Wednesday said he relied on instinct and training after happening upon a crash near the Magnolia Bridge in Denham Springs.
“I’m a fireman on duty and off duty,” said Jonathon Dixon, 25, of the St. George Fire Department. “Just because I don’t have a uniform on does not mean that I’m not a fireman still.”
The crash happened about 7 a.m. Wednesday on La. 64 near La. 1019 after a motorist, Stacie Massey, lost consciousness and ran under an 18-wheeler on Magnolia Bridge Road, State Police said. Massey, in an interview at her Denham Springs home, said she blacked out from a migraine and had no recollection of her rescue.
After Massey became unconscious, her car became wedged under the 18-wheeler and caught fire, authorities said.
Dixon and other first responders who happened to be in the area freed her from the flaming wreckage before she sustained any serious injuries.
“What made it kind of cool was the trooper and the firefighter were in the general area when it happened,” Trooper 1st Class Jared Sandifer said, referring to Dixon and Trooper Chase Huval, who also assisted in the rescue. “Had they not been there that quickly it could have turned out a little more tragically.”
Dixon likely will receive “internal recognition” for his actions, said Chief Gerald C. Tarleton of the St. George Fire Department.
“So many times we go to things like this and they turn out to be so tragic,” Tarleton said. “This turned out to be somewhat of a miracle.”
Massey said she started to feel bad from a headache and decided to turn around in a Shell gas station parking lot and head back home.
“I have migraines and I just blacked out,” she said. “Usually I pull off or I make it home — this time I didn’t.”
Dixon, meanwhile, had wrapped up a 24-hour shift at the fire station on Perkins Road in East Baton Rouge Parish, went home to change and was headed to a part-time job when he happened upon the accident. He first noticed the rising smoke from the car while buying his daily biscuit inside a nearby business.
“My first thought was it was their brake,” Dixon said, referring to the 18-wheeler. “I didn’t really think that anything was going on until I noticed all the bystanders running that way.”
Dixon made his way to the scene and saw the front of Massey’s car was ablaze.
“I really kicked it in high gear whenever I found out that nobody had exited the vehicle,” Dixon said.
Dixon tried to open the back passenger door, but it was locked.
“The only thing I had available for me was my steel-toe work boot,” he said.
Cpl. Pat Wennemann of the Baton Rouge Police Department arrived at the scene and had a fire extinguisher, Dixon said, which was used to finish breaking out a rear-door window. “I reached in and unlocked the door,” Dixon added. “I climbed in the back seat.”
Holding his breath to avoid smoke inhalation, Dixon noticed that Massey was in a semi-conscious state and tried to pull her toward him to check her pulse.
“Once I saw her head move,” Dixon said, “I knew that she was alive.”
Dixon said he took off his jacket and put it over the woman’s face. The first responders shattered the passenger window and unlocked that door.
A state trooper opened the driver’s door and helped to free the woman’s legs, which had become pinned, Dixon said. Eventually, the men pulled her out of the vehicle.
“I could see a glow underneath the dash coming from the engine compartment, so I knew that she didn’t have much time,” Dixon said.
Massey was taken to Ochsner Medical Center with minor injuries and was later released, Sandifer said. She pointed to a large bruise on her arm during a Thursday night interview but said she was otherwise unscathed.
She has since seen video footage of her burning car on Facebook, and also used the social networking site to communicate with Dixon’s mother.
“If they were not there, I would not be alive today,” she said of the first responders. “I will definitely thank them privately.”
Dixon said he couldn’t have saved the woman without the help of Huval, Wennemann and other first responders who rushed to the scene. “It was nothing but a team effort,” he said.
Tarleton, the fire chief, said he was proud of Dixon’s reaction.
“We pride ourselves in saying we’re always going to step up to the plate,” Tarleton said. “He obviously did that day when he didn’t even have to.”