'I just knew I had to do something': Nova Scotia honours four for bravery
Premier Stephen McNeil, left, and advisory board chair Hugh Laurence, flank Travis Wolfe, a Nova Scotia Medal of Bravery recipient, at Province House in Halifax on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. Wolfe rescued an elderly neighbour trapped inside a burning house after an explosion in rural Nova Scotia. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)
Keith Doucette, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Wednesday, November 8, 2017 4:04PM AST
HALIFAX -- Travis Wolfe was helping plow his grandfather's yard following back-to-back snowstorms in Port Joli, N.S., last February, when the older man alerted him to an ominous sound in the distance.
"My grandfather came out of the door and hollered, 'There's an explosion down over the hill,' so we jumped in the truck," said Wolfe, shortly after being awarded Nova Scotia's Medal of Bravery with three other recipients in a ceremony Wednesday at the provincial legislature.
The truck became stuck on the unplowed road, Wolfe said, and he was forced to run down over the hill toward the neighbour's house in waist deep snow.
"One end of the house was in flames and I knew I couldn't do nothing there," the 26-year-old father of two said.
"But I kicked the door open at the other end and just kind of felt my way through with my feet and my hands."
The pitch black smoke made it impossible to see and even harder to breathe. Wolfe gradually inched his way inside, where he found 76-year-old Catherine Parker.
"You just felt your way more or less and I felt this thing soft and I reached down and it was Cathy."
Wolfe said he managed to get the stricken woman outside, and a short distance from the house he collapsed in the snow from smoke inhalation.
"I had so much smoke in my lungs ... and I couldn't really move for a while. Then my grandfather got down with the truck."
Wolfe said the pair managed to get Parker back to his grandfather's house, where they called for an ambulance.
Unfortunately there was nothing Wolfe could do for Parker's husband, 89-year-old James Parker, who perished in the fire.
David Parker, who was on hand to see Wolfe receive his medal from Premier Stephen McNeil, said his family is very pleased to see Wolfe recognized.
"We were on the scene maybe half an hour after he was there and you could still see the severity of the fire. To know that he didn't hesitate and immediately went in and put his life at risk ... I don't know if I would have done that. We still have our stepmom around because of it and we will be eternally grateful."
But Wolfe said he only did what he hopes others would have done.
"You don't really think," he said. "I just knew I had to do something to see if I could help at all."
Shane Bernard, of Cape Breton's Waycobah First Nation, was also honoured Wednesday along with his lifelong best friend Liam Bernard for their actions following a horrific crash on Highway 105 near Melford in September of last year.
Bernard, now 38, said the pair were on their way to Halifax that morning when they pulled up to what he describes as a "pretty chaotic scene."
He said a woman driving an SUV had been killed, while two people in a nearby truck were "screaming pretty loud for help."
The pair managed to get one of the people out of the truck, which had caught fire under the hood, but the driver was stuck.
"Liam went in to rescue the driver but he wasn't able to get him out and the driver gave him a hug and told him, 'Leave me here."'
Bernard held the door open while his friend Liam continued his efforts to free the driver with the help of a Canadian soldier who had stopped. By this time the vehicle fire was so intense Bernard said the heat began to curl the hair at the side of his head.
"He (Liam) had to rip the dash to get him free," Bernard said. "Moments later the entire truck was engulfed in flames."
The fourth medal recipient, coast guard leading seaman Eric Nickerson, was honoured for his role in a high-seas rescue off Cape Sable Island in November 2016.
Nickerson, of Clark's Harbour, jumped aboard a sailboat that had broken its mainsail in rough seas with nine metre swells and high winds of about 60 knots.
The 52-year-old said it was clear the sailor was in distress and needed to be calmed before he was transferred to the coast guard vessel.
"He was a very large man and could not fit in a survival suit," said Nickerson. "He was nervous and he wasn't really willing to leave his boat, not in those conditions."
He said the man was swept overboard as his rescuers tried to transfer him to a life raft.
Although the 25-year coast guard veteran isn't a rescue swimmer, he quickly jumped in to stabilize the man -- a job that wasn't easy to accomplish.
"He was a much larger man than me and he was dominating me in the water and hauled me under several times with waves crashing over us. I told him, 'If you go down, I'm going down with you, so we're both going home or neither one of us is going home."'
Nickerson said the pair was eventually plucked from the water by the coast guard cutter.