Off-duty fire Lt. falls off bridge while saving woman from crash

Lt. Jason McNally fell 30 feet into a river after sliding across the hood of a burning vehicle and trying to pull the driver out of the car


By David Harris
Orlando Sentinel

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — When Orange County Fire Rescue Lt. Jason McNally put his foot down, he expected to find ground.

Instead he found air.

His body began a 30-foot descent off the St. Johns River bridge. McNally braced himself to hit concrete. Instead, he went feet first into the river.

“You have no idea how relieved I was when I hit the water,” he said.

But McNally, 40, was not out of trouble yet. He had his heavy coat on and the water was cold, taking his breath away.

Then he realized another man had fallen into the water with him. They both needed to swim to safety.

“I said ‘Just swim on your back, swim on your back,’” McNally said. “We just floated, trying to swim with shoes and boots and uniforms.”

They had to swim about 20 yards, which felt like “forever,” he said.

The harrowing incident started when McNally was driving to work Friday morning, crossing the St. Johns River bridge on State Road 528 near the Orange-Brevard county line. He noticed a crash ahead of him.

Rhonda Nagy, 54, of Merritt Island, was traveling west in a 1993 Volvo on S.R. 528, also known as the Beachline Expressway, at 6:40 a.m., Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Kim Montes said. When Nagy slowed for a crash, she was struck from behind by a 2016 Honda driven by Zachary Daniels, causing her vehicle to catch fire.

McNally stopped his vehicle and sprinted to the car, which was next to the concrete barrier. Then he slid across the hood to get to the woman who was stuck inside.

“There was no time to think. I just reacted,” he said.

As he and Daniels tried to help Nagy get out of her burning car, the two men fell into the river, Montes said.

After they swam ashore, they ran back to the scene, thinking Nagy was still in the car. But someone else had gotten her out.

Neither man was hurt. “It’s amazing they weren’t injured,” Montes said.

Nagy suffered only minor injuries.

McNally credits Daniels, 30, of Rockledge for helping.

“He deserves more credit than I do because I’m trained for this,” he said. “I don’t have to think about it; I just react. He had to make a conscious decision to put himself in harm’s way for something he’s never been trained for.”

Noting it was the day before St. Patrick’s Day, McNally called it the “luck of the Irish” that he was able to help. There’s another bit of irony: he works as a “floating lieutenant,” which means he goes from station to station during his shift.

“I never thought I’d be floating down a river,” he said with a laugh.

Copyright 2018 Orlando Sentinel

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