A two-vehicle accident Tuesday morning in the town of Orleans could have had a much different outcome if it weren't for the quick action of four men.
Kory M. Keefer, a city of Watertown employee who lives on Route 180 in Stone Mills, was at home getting ready for work about 7:30 a.m. when he heard a loud crash outside.
Two vehicles had collided and one had rolled over into a ditch across from Mr. Keefer's house near the Stone Mills Agricultural Museum.
The crash was witnessed by three state Department of Transportation employees on their way to a tree-trimming job. They stopped to help out. One of the men, Cole A. Paradise, dialed 911 immediately.
The car that had landed in the ditch started to smoke. Flames were visible around the hood.
The driver, an as-yet-unidentified woman alone in the car, was trapped inside the vehicle and appeared unresponsive.
Thinking fast, Mr. Paradise and his two co-workers went to work. Mr. Paradise grabbed a fire extinguisher from the truck and handed it to his co-worker, who started spraying down the engine compartment. Realizing they had to get the woman out of the car, Mr. Paradise ran back to the truck to look for something heavy enough to shatter auto glass. He looked around for a hammer before settling on a tongue jack mounted on the wood-chipper they were hauling.
“Close your eyes and cover your ears,” Mr. Paradise said they told the woman. “We're going to get you out through the rear window.”
One of the men smashed the glass with the jack and the DOT employees pulled the woman out, assisted by Mr. Keefer, who had rushed out of his house to help, bringing his home fire extinguisher with him.
A short time later, an ambulance arrived, followed by the state police and Jefferson County sheriff's deputies.
Mr. Paradise is a little hazy on the timeline, for good reason.
“In a situation like that, your adrenaline's pumping” he said. He wasn't keeping track of the play-by-play.
The woman reported no injuries and refused medical treatment at the scene. The other driver was not hurt.
The DOT employees stayed around to help clean up debris and answer questions. Mr. Keefer said he got out of the way to let the police do their jobs. He finished getting ready and went to work.
“The highway guys really saved the day. I'm just glad I could help,” Mr. Keefer said.
“We got the fire out and got her out of the car. That was pretty much it,” Mr. Paradise said.
State police — the first law enforcement agency on the scene — described the incident simply as a “property damage” accident in their report. No other information was available Thursday afternoon, but police said an investigation continued.
The other two men involved at the scene declined to be interviewed, not wishing to call unnecessary attention to what Mr. Paradise described as an act of common decency.
DOT supervising engineer Matthew P. Bush described the three employees as “pretty modest guys.”
Mr. Paradise said he was reluctant to be interviewed as well but got “talked into it.”
“We didn't do it to be heroes; we did it because it had to be done,” he said. “I hope that somebody else would do it if they were in the same situation.”