Location: Macon, Georgia
Date: October 1, 1989
On October 1, 1989, rainy weather kept Mid-Georgia Ambulance Service busy responding to car accidents in Macon, Georgia. That afternoon, Mid-Georgia received the report of multi-car accident. Paramedic Steve Parker and his partner, Tim Powell, hopped into their ambulance. In the event of multiple injuries on the scene, paramedic Neil Stevens and his partner suggested they also respond as backup.
The two ambulances kept in radio contact as Stevens followed Parker in the pouring rain. The roads were slick, and at one point, Parker hit a dip and went into a skid. He regained control of his vehicle, then radioed to Stevens to warm him of the upcoming danger zone. Stevens slowed to avoid a problem, and the two ambulances continued on.
When Parker went around a curve and lost sight of Stevens, he became a little concerned, so he radioed the dispatcher to tell her what had happened. Parker wanted to turn around and drive back to find his coworkers, but training had taught him that upon being dispatched to a call, he must respond or possibly be held liable for patient abandonment.
Stevens had not rounded the curve because as he drove into it, the wet streets caused his ambulance to skid off the road. The vehicle struck a fire hydrant, rolled over three times, and landed in its side. The fire hydrant ripped a hole in the gas tank and the ambulance erupted into flames. Neither Stevens nor his partner were seriously hurt, but they were trapped inside the vehicle and faced burning to death unless they escaped immediately. As flames spread around the ambulance, Stevens desperately struggled to release his seat belt while his partner tried to kick out the windshield.
Norris Thomas, a Georgia Power Company troubleshooter, was on his way to work when he saw the fiery wreckage. He jumped out of his pickup and ran over to the vehicle, where he saw a crack in the windshield just wide enough to stick his fingers through. Thomas broke the glass, tore the windshield from the car, and reached inside. He grabbed Stevens' partner who was twice his own weight, pulled him out, and threw him away from the vehicle.
"I said to myself, there's no way I'm going back in that," recalls Thomas. "And by that time, I was back in there." As flames consumed the front of the ambulance, Thomas reached inside, somehow managed to release Stevens' seat belt, and yanked him to safety. "If we hadn't gotten out in the next ten seconds," recalls Stevens, "we'd be six feet under. We owe our lives to that man."
As firefighters arrived on the scene to extinguish the blaze, the paramedics looked for Thomas to offer their thanks. A bystander told them he had left. Thomas, concerned he'd be late for work, had quietly walked back to his truck and driven off without giving his name to anyone. "But you don't understand," said Stevens to the bystander, "I've got to thank this man. He just saved my life."
By the next day, everyone in Macon was trying to find the mystery hero. A coworker of Thomas' heard a report over the radio that the paramedics were looking for their rescuer. The coworker had already learned that Thomas was their man. He also knew his buddy was the reserved type, but he wanted him to get the credit he deserved, so he asked Thomas for permission to give his name to Mid-Georgia Ambulance. Thomas consented.
Stevens and his partner finally got to personally thank Thomas for saving their lives. When they met him, they were shocked that a man of such average size had mastered the power to pull him out. "I never had that feeling before," recalls Thomas. "It's just like a force, like energy. And I know if it weren't for that instinct, it wouldn't have happened."
Thomas asked the paramedics to play down the whole episode. "But you did a great thing," Stevens told Thomas. "My job is to go out and save people's lives every chance I get. That's what you for me." "I was stunned," says Thomas. "I never did realize that. I never did think about it that way."