A Vinton native who received the Sullivan Brothers Award of Valor for helping a crew of Marion firefighters pull an injured semi truck driver out of a cab submerged in a pond last year says his father and other Vinton firefighters inspired him to make that his career.
On Dec. 8, 2016, Zach Bruce and three other Marion firefighters responded to a report of a semi that had left Highway 151 and crashed into a pond. They arrived to find the cab nearly completely under water, with the driver, Kostyantyn Knysh, 38, of Plainfield, Illinois trapped inside. Quickly putting on wet suits, the four entered the icy water, where they spent nearly an hour helping extract Knysh from the vehicle.
“They were brave way beyond a five-minute time frame,” said Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. “They were heroes in every sense of the word.”
Gov. Reynolds summarized the events of the day while presenting the Award of Valor to the four firefighters last week:
On December 8, 2016, at 10:52 a.m., a call came in to the Marion Fire Department for a semi roll-over on Highway 151 near Stone Road. Firetrucks and ambulances were dispatched to the scene.
Firefighters Jeff Hoover, Peter Lammer, Jeremy Smith and Zachary Bruce arrived on scene and were directed to a pond on the south side of the highway. A semi cab was nearly submerged (with the driver’s side completely under water.) Witnesses on scene said they hadn’t observed anyone exit the semi.
That day, temperatures were around 15 degrees, with a slight wind chill and flurries. Only a few feet of the semi cab could be seen above the water. Firefighters Bruce and Smith quickly dressed in their rescue wetsuits and entered the freeing waters. Firefighter Bruce was able to break open the passenger side rear window of the cab and hear the driver’s voice.
After the crash, the driver was pinned in the front of the cab and was unable to free himself. With his head barely above the waterline, his only source of oxygen was a small pocket of air.
Firefighters Hoover and Lammer entered the water in a boat to assist. A reciprocating saw and air chisel were used to cut a hole between the rear passenger window and the sunroof of the cab, allowing them to reach inside and free the driver.
During the rescue, the firefighters could not see the trapped man. They kept in constant contact with him, reassuring him they were going to get him out. Nearly an hour after arriving on scene, the man was rescued by the four brave firefighters.
Cedar Rapids Fire Department was there to take the driver in for immediate medical attention. All four firefighters needed treatment after showing signs of extreme exhaustion.
Bruce, the son of Steve and Michelle Bruce of Vinton, says he became a firefighter because his father and other members of the Vinton Fire Department inspired him by their example.
“It was an honor to receive this award, but on the other hand there are so many others that also deserve this award,” says Bruce. “I say this is just part of my job. I signed up to be a firefighter to help people in the time of need. That day we saved a life, but in this profession we see it all, the good and the bad.”
Bruce says he grew up around the Vinton Fire Department.
“My dad was a volunteer for many years and he and the other Vinton firefighters at that time is why I’m doing this today,” he explains. Bruce, a 1997 Vinton-Shellsburg graduate, was a volunteer firefighter in Hiawatha for four years before getting his first full-time job in Marshalltown. After eight years there, he joined the Marion Fire Department in February of 2014.
Also helping in the rescue was the Metro Dive Team of Iowa City, which looked for other crash survivors while the Marion team worked to free the driver. The Cedar Rapids Fire Department also aided the rescue efforts with one of its boat units.
Along with the Marion firefighters, Iowa State Patrol Trooper Henningsen received the Award of Valor for rescuing a man trapped in a burning vehicle in a ditch in near Bettendorf in February.