Pa. first responders honored for saving man in semi rollover incident

Chinchilla Hose Company, Clarks Summit Fire Company and Dickson City Fire Department spent six hours freeing trucker John Bunalski after his semi rolled over

Clayton Over
The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa.

SOUTH ABINGTON TWP. — Township and county officials recognized three local fire departments and other first responders for their work saving the life of a trapped trucker last month.

Chinchilla Hose Company, Clarks Summit Fire Company and Dickson City Fire Department spent six hours freeing John Bunalski of New Jersey from the crumpled cab of his truck after the vehicle rolled over on the Interstate 81 interchange in the township. On Monday night, officials gathered at a South Abington Twp. supervisors meeting to recognize those who helped at the scene. Township officials read a resolution honoring the fire departments.

“It was a long extrication, but it was rewarding at the end,” Chinchilla Fire Company Chief Sean Connolly said.

Though Bunalski was in danger of losing a leg — his limb was pinned inside the cab — the efforts of fire crews and medical personnel saved the extremity, though he did suffer broken bones, Connolly said. He remains in stable condition at Geisinger Community Medical Center, Geisinger spokeswoman Alysha Davis said.

First responders arrived at the township’s Interstate 81 interchange about 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 14 to find the cab and trailer atop the concrete and steel barrier that separates lanes and Bunalski trapped inside. Extricating him proved difficult because of the way the truck landed on the barrier, which pinned him between the dashboard and seat. About 40 firefighters from the three departments, plus a trauma team from Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton, all responded to the scene.

Initially, both Bunalski’s arms and legs were stuck inside the vehicle, said Assistant Engineer Nathan Rehder of Chinchilla Hose Company. Bunalski remained awake and alert over the six-hour rescue and did what he could to help rescuers, Rehder said.

“He’s tough as nails,” Rehder said. “He was very cooperative, as much as he could have been because he was in a situation that wasn’t the best for him.”

Medical personnel kept the driver stable and administered IVs and pain medication to him as crews worked. Crews first got his arms loose and then worked to free his legs, Rehder said. The rescuers succeeded about 4:30 p.m., the result of sheer determination and commitment on the part of the fire personnel on scene, Rehder said.

“Hour after hour went by,” Rehder said. “Once we did free him, we took a sigh of relief.”

Emergency medical personnel then rushed Bunalski to GCMC. Rehder and a colleague visited him there about a week after the crash to find a thankful Bunalski in good spirits, committed to making a full recovery.

A cause of the crash is still under investigation, state police said. In addition to the fire departments, Lackawanna County officials also recognized state police, state Department of Transportation personnel and Brayer’s Auto Service and Towing in Scranton for their work on the scene.

It was nice to see everyone who responded recognized Monday, Rehder said.

“It was an all-around effort,” Rehder said. “We got him out as a team.”


©2019 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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