Off-duty firefighter saves man from burning truck

Chris Quinlan was on his way to work when he witnessed a truck hit a road barrier before being hit by two semis, causing it to catch fire

By Natalie Johnson
The Chronicle

SEATTLE — The Seattle Fire Department recognized Mossyrock resident Chris Quinlan Tuesday for his life-saving actions as the off-duty firefighter who pulled an injured man from a burning pickup truck early that morning in Lewis County.

“Quinlan works at Fire Station 33 in South Seattle,” a press release from the Seattle Fire Department states. “We are proud to say he is a member of our department.”

Chehalis Fire Chief Ken Cardinale reported Tuesday that Quinlan rushed to aid the victim, later identified as James P. Holmes, 54, of Centralia, after his truck crashed into the barrier between north- and southbound lanes, was hit by two semi trucks, rolled and caught on fire.

Quinlan took a break Wednesday to talk with The Chronicle about the incident.

“It was just a day that just started early,” he said.

Quinlan, 52, lives in Mossyrock, and for the past 26 years has commuted about 115 miles one-way to work for the Seattle Fire Department. The commute is tolerable, he said, because he works 24-hour shifts.

“Fortunately I leave about 3:30 in the morning from my house and that puts me (at the scene of the crash) about 4,” Quinlan said. “It was just one of those mornings. Over the years I’ve stopped at many accidents.”

On Tuesday morning, Quinlan had just about reached the Labree Road intersection on I-5 when he saw the truck hit the jersey barrier between north- and southbound lanes.

“(I) saw his lights go in the air … the truck spin around,” he said. “I started slowing down and I started getting on my phone to call 911.”

The truck, a 1998 Dodge, pushed a portion of the jersey barrier into the left northbound lane, but Quinlan didn’t notice as he pulled to the side of the road.

He was getting ready to check on the driver when he saw the first semi truck coming.

“I was just fortunate that I had enough training to know not to get in that other lane until we could get traffic stopped,” Quinlan said.

The semi pushed Holmes’s truck further down the freeway, according to the state patrol. At that point, a second semi hit the Dodge, causing it to roll and catch fire.

Quinlan rushed to the truck, which was already fully engulfed in flames. He said Holmes was lucky to have ended up on the truck’s floorboard when it rolled, below the flames.

“When you’ve been doing it a long time you kind of know the hazards like anything else,” said Quinlan, who had an aid kit, but no fire gear with him. “It was very hot.”

Quinlan stayed at the scene to administer first aid to Holmes and help first responders before continuing his commute to work.

Cardinale called Quinlan a “hero” Tuesday morning. Quinlan said local first responders, including 911 dispatchers, deserved much of the credit.

“It’s not just me,” he said. “It’s me calling the dispatchers and letting them know what resources they need and the dispatchers being able to figure that out and sending the right unit. The dispatchers deserve a lot of credit for getting the right response to that location.”

The driver of the first semi truck, identified by the state patrol as David A. Hawkins, 41, of Vancouver, got out of his truck to assess the scene and had a “medical event,” said trooper Will Finn, of the Washington State Patrol, causing him to go into cardiac arrest. He was transported to Providence Centralia Hospital.

The second semi driver, identified as Warren E. Cortesi, 62, of Tacoma, was not injured.

Shortly after the crash in the southbound lanes, a passenger car struck the portion of jersey barrier moved into the northbound lanes, Finn said.

One of the three occupants in that vehicle, identified as Tony C. Kim, 40, of Olympia, was injured and transported to Providence Centralia Hospital with minor injuries.

That vehicle narrowly missed Quinlan’s, he said.

Unspecified charges are pending against Holmes. It is unknown if drugs or alcohol played a role in the incident, according to the state patrol.

Copyright 2018 The Chronicle


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