A group of strangers on North Whidbey saved a man’s life earlier this year by pulling his unconscious body out of a smoking car moments before it burst into flames.
The dramatic rescue was recounted by Matthew Buchholz, an EMT with WhidbeyHealth, during a Oak Harbor City Council meeting Tuesday. He presented four North Whidbey residents with the first WhidbeyHealth Emergency Medical Service Community Lifesaving Award. In fact, the award was created by Whidbey Island Paramedics IAFF Local 5133 specifically to honor Brian Roberts, Seth Foster, Jennifer Carlson and Corey Baker.
“Heroes can be found among us — ordinary individuals who rise to the occasion, demonstrating extraordinary bravery and compassion,” Buchholz said. “You’ve shown us the truest measure of heroism lies in the act of kindness that we extend to one another.”
A Washington State Patrol report on the crash states that 48-year-old Oak Harbor resident Chad Gravitt was driving south on Highway 20 just before 7 p.m. when his 2013 Toyota Venza crossed the centerline and struck an oncoming pickup head-on before also hitting an SUV.
Gravitt was knocked unconscious and pinned inside the car, which had started to smoke. Buchholz said the passersby recognized the danger and worked quickly to save Gravitt. Roberts, who is active duty military, immediately worked to pry the door open. All four of the residents worked together to free the driver, whose leg was pinned inside the car, and pull him to safety as flames grew.
Buchholz noted that other citizens also tried to help — which was captured in a photo of the scene — but that there was limited space for helping hands.
Ambulance crews and other first responders arrived soon afterward. Gravitt was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for treatment. The State Patrol report states that two people in the other cars received minor injuries and were treated at the scene.
Buchholz, who has 20 years of experience in emergency medicine, said he was amazed and heartened when he heard about the rescue. He noted that it is rare to see an incident in which actions by a group of strangers so clearly saved a person’s life. He decided to work with others in the union to create the award.
Buchholz said that the four bystanders kept their composures in the midst of the life-and-death situation, which can be difficult for even the most seasoned first responder.
“Their acts of heroism serve as a powerful reminder that heroes are not limited to those who wear a uniform or hold official titles,” he said. “Heroes can be found among us — ordinary individuals who rise to the occasion, demonstrating extraordinary bravery and compassion.”
Buchholz said the lifesaving award won’t be a one-time event, but the first responders hope to present it to other heroic citizens in the future.