National Grid crew frees woman from overturned car

Submitted Photo From left: Charlie Meli, Ray Campbell and Tommy Coughlin.

You’re driving along an icy, winding road on the heels of a major snow storm, when you see an overturned car in a ditch. Up ahead, a motorist has parked his car and has stepped out of his vehicle, but he’s not investigating the crash scene.

What would you do?

Do you pull up on to the overturned car and see if someone needs help? Do you assume the man on the shoulder of the road is already helping? Do you continue driving?

A Fredonia, N.Y. electric operations crew of Charlie Meli, senior foreman, Ray Campbell, senior hot stick and lineman Tom Coughlin faced this exact situation on Feb. 25 after a wind storm resulted in power outages throughout upstate New York.

They saw the car and stopped to see if anyone needed help. Turns out, the back window had been smashed, and they could see the driver inside the vehicle: A young woman still wearing her seat belt, behind the steering wheel and suspended upside down.

“It was snowing pretty hard and we were coming around this S turn on Fredonia Stockton Road, saw the car in a ditch, and another car parked just past it,” said Charlie, who added that there was a man walking around in the street, presumably the driver of the car up ahead.

He described the ditch as being just slightly wider than the vehicle.

“You couldn’t open the doors,” he said, adding that the ditch was deep enough so that the underside of the car was even with ground level.

Charlie, Ray and Tom needed to think fast.

While approaching the car, Charlie recalled an incident around 20 years ago when responding to an accident where a truck slammed into a National Grid utility pole and burst into flames. During this incident, his foreman asked for a knife to cut the seat belt and free the driver.

Not knowing the condition of the young woman, Charlie instructed Ray and Tom to dial 911 and to get him a sledge hammer and a knife. Charlie used the hammer to knock out the remaining glass shards from the back window, so he wouldn’t cut himself. He crawled through the opening then cut the seat belt to free the woman, who had dialed 911 while upside down in the driver’s seat.

“Charlie kept a level head; he jumped down there and got to work,” said Ray. “We had to react without hesitation and overall, it went smoothly.”

Once freed from the car, they brought the woman into their truck, where she warmed herself until paramedics arrived shortly thereafter.

Charlie said that they never got the woman’s name.

The entire episode, Ray said, lasted only a few minutes. But it’s something he’ll remember a long time. He offered his thoughts on looking out for situations where someone may need assistance.

“If you come up on an accident scene, don’t assume someone else has been there and is taking care of everything,” he said. “If we hadn’t gotten out and checked, how long might that woman have been in that car until help arrived?”


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