Medics save man, 91, in un­der­wa­ter res­cue

Tampa Bay Times - - Tampa Bay - BY JUSTIN TROMBLY Times Staff Writer

CLEAR­WA­TER — Had the two fire­fight­ers swum up to the sink­ing car any later, the 91-year-old driver might have drowned.

“They didn’t hes­i­tate, and that’s the bot­tom line,” Clear­wa­ter Fire & Res­cue As­sis­tant Chief Ricky Sta­siowski said af­ter Fri­day’s dra­matic res­cue.

Medics Paul Sud­duth and An­drew Sul­li­van ex­plained to re­porters how they pulled off their quick and timely res­cue of driver Harry Hefter.

The in­ci­dent took place at 12:03 p.m., ac­cord­ing to the Florida High­way Pa­trol, inside Top of the World, a sprawl­ing 55-an­dover com­mu­nity at 2022 Camelot Drive.

Hefter was driv­ing a red 2013 Hyundai Sonata west on Utopian Drive E, east of Utopian Boule­vard, the FHP said, when he lost con­trol while turn­ing left into a park­ing space. The Hyundai then struck another ve­hi­cle and a wall, drove through the space and ended up in a pond.

When the medics ar­rived, they said the Hyundai was plum­met­ing nose-first into the pond, weighed down by its en­gine. Hefter had climbed into the back seat and was cling­ing to the last few inches of air left inside as wa­ter gushed into the car.

Sud­duth and Sul­li­van, wear­ing life vests and car­ry­ing a por­ta­ble flota­tion de­vice, swam out to the ve­hi­cle. The medics said the wa­ter was up to Hefter’s neck. The doors were un­locked, so the pair pulled Hefter out as the car con­tin­ued to sink into the murky wa­ter.

As they swam back to shore with the driver, the medics said they turned back and saw the sedan go un­der.

The driver would prob­a­bly have not have made it out on his own, the medics said.

“He was just gassed,” Sul­li­van said.

Hefter didn’t ex­plain how the car ended up in the pond, they said. He suf­fered mi­nor in­juries, the FHP said, and was taken to Mease Coun­try­side Hos­pi­tal as a pre­cau­tion. He was re­ported to be in sta­ble con­di­tion there.

Sta­siowski said the two medics (that’s what Clear­wa­ter Fire & Res­cue calls its fire­fight­ers who are also trained as paramedics) were trained to in res­cu­ing the oc­cu­pants of a sink­ing ve­hi­cle.

They also faced the same dan­gers any­one else would have when div­ing into dark, un­fa­mil­iar wa­ters — in­clud­ing al­li­ga­tors.

Sud­duth and Sul­li­van — who both have about three years logged with the depart­ment — said it feels good to be part of a suc­cess­ful res­cue, start­ing with the quick-think­ing by­standers who im­me­di­ately called 911.

“It was a chain re­ac­tion,” Sud­duth said. “I’m just glad to be part of it.”

Clear­wa­ter Fire & Res­cue pho­tos

Clear­wa­ter Fire & Res­cue medics Paul Sud­duth, left, and An­drew Sul­li­van pulled a 91-year-old man from a sink­ing car on Fri­day af­ter he drove into a pond.

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