'I said, I've got to get this woman out of here': N.S. men honoured for bravery
Premier Stephen McNeil, Kevin Tough of West Pennant, N.S., Hugh Laurence, chair of the Medal of Bravery advisory committee, and James Dufour of Halifax, left to right, pose in Halifax on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)
Keith Doucette, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Tuesday, December 4, 2018 2:06PM AST
Last Updated Wednesday, December 5, 2018 7:37AM AST
HALIFAX -- When others were running away from the burning car, Bruce Knocton ran towards it.
Knocton, a sheriff's deputy, came across a life-and-death situation while making a familiar highway run between jails in Halifax and Pictou County.
"We saw brake lights, we saw debris flying in the air," said Knocton, who was behind the wheel of a van transferring six inmates on the evening of Oct. 12.
"We were approximately seven vehicles back from a head-on collision."
What happened next would see Knocton recognized Tuesday with Nova Scotia's Medal of Bravery during a ceremony at the provincial legislature.
Knocton said he and his sheriff partner, Samantha Martin, put on their flashing emergency lights and were able to drive toward the crash at a highway exit near Truro, N.S.
"When we got there one car was on fire, the hood was all caved in and the flames were shooting about three or four feet out of the hood," said Knocton.
After radioing for help, Knocton said the pair ran toward the burning vehicle with fire extinguishers.
"At this point people were running away from the vehicle saying, 'It's going to blow, It's going to blow,"' he said. "Sam went to deal with the elderly guy in the other vehicle and I attended to the car that was on fire."
After emptying the fire extinguisher, Knocton said he sent a bystander to get another one at a nearby gas station. As smoke continued to roll from the vehicle, he said, he looked inside and saw that the airbags had deployed.
"There was an elderly lady slumped over the console, she was face down and unconscious" he said. "By this time the flames had started back up again so I said, 'I've got to get this woman out of here."'
Knocton said another man came back from the gas station with a fire extinguisher, which was used to douse the flames as he crawled into the car and attempted to stabilize the seriously injured woman.
Knocton stayed with the victim until she could be extracted by paramedics, who took her to hospital. She was later airlifted to a Halifax hospital where she eventually made a full recovery.
The 54-year-old Knocton, a resident of Milford, said before working as a sheriff's deputy he spent 15 years as an auxiliary police officer and had previous experience at accident scenes.
"Your experience kicks in and you just get the job done," he said matter-of-factly. "You just get the job done and you do what you can to save a life. I was just glad to be there to lend a hand."
The feeling was similar for medal recipient Paul Rowe of Chester Basin.
Rowe, 62, said he was enjoying a cup of tea with his wife in their oceanside home in the early evening of Nov. 3, when he heard a loud bang.
"I saw a splash and my wife said she saw three (splashes), so I'm assuming the car actually skipped like a stone, and my wife said somebody has gone under the water there."
Rowe said he ran to the crash scene and saw a small bit of the car's roof sticking out of the water.
"There was screaming coming from the car and so I waded out to try and see if I could help."
Rowe said he was joined by a younger man and a police officer. After a struggle to open the car door they were eventually able to drag the woman to shore.
Rowe said they went back to see if anyone else was inside and were startled to see an empty child's car seat.
They dived into the chilly waters in and around the car to make sure there was no child nearby and Rowe said "thankfully" that was the case.
Rowe said he is overwhelmed by the reaction to what he did.
"It's way beyond what I think it is in terms of all the ceremony and medals. I'm just a regular guy that did what had to be done and I think most people would do that."
Tuesday's ceremony also honoured Jules Dufour of Halifax and Kevin Tough of West Pennant.
The men, who didn't know one another, were responsible for rescuing a young man and two pets after knocking down the door of a burning home in Halifax on March 7.
For the past 11 years, the province has awarded its bravery medal to people who have risked their lives protecting the lives and property of others.
Justice Minister Mark Furey, an ex-RCMP officer, put the actions of the medal recipients into perspective.
"What amazes and inspires me ... is that these brave gentlemen did not sign up to be first responders," said Furey. "But it is exactly what they did."