Left to right, Kenai Assistant Fire Chief James Baisden, Donna Swaby, Engineer John Wichman, Capt. James Dye and Capt. Jason Diorec pose with the Hurst Rescue of the Year Award last Wednesday. The firefighters were honored with the traveling trophy by the Alaska State Firefighters for their heroic efforts in saving Swaby's life after a car crash last year. Firefighter John Harris, not pictured, also was recognized for his part in the rescue.
When Kenai firefighters first arrived on the scene of a horrible crash a year ago, they didn't find the driver or anyone in the front seat of one of the cars.
Donna Swaby had been heading north on the Kenai Spur Highway at about Mile 5 that afternoon and stopped to make a left turn off the highway when a motorist crashed into her from behind sending her car into oncoming traffic.
The vehicle that was coming at an estimated 50-55 mph was a fully loaded tractor trailer. The 62-year-old driver couldn't believe what he was seeing as a small passenger car suddenly darted into his path. He was helpless. There was no time for evasive maneuvers. He watched as the driver's side of the car wrapped around the front of his rig.
When responders found Swaby, she was inexplicably in the back seat of what was left of her car the only place survivable.
Using cutter and jaws extricating equipment, firefighters had her evaluated and out of the vehicle within 19 minutes. Seven minutes later, she was in the emergency room of Central Peninsula Hospital.
Once stabilized, she was flown to Anchorage for further treatment.
After reading a version of the above story to members of the Kenai City Council at last Wednesday's meeting, Kenai Fire Chief Mike Tilly announced that the heroic rescue was recognized at the Alaska State Firefighters convention for this year's "Hurst Rescue of the Year Award."
Tilly called Assistant Fire Chief James Baisden, Capt. Jason Diorec, Capt. James Dye, Engineer John Wichman and Firefighter John Harris to the front of the council chamber to accept the traveling award, which will remain in Kenai until next year's state fire convention.
Because of the number of vehicles involved in the accident and the number of potential victims, a mutual aid crew also was summoned from Central Emergency Services in Soldotna to assist the five Kenai responders, according to Tilly.
Following a round of applause from Mayor Pat Porter, city council members, city department heads and members of the public in attendance at the council meeting, Tilly introduced Donna Swaby.
Walking with the assistance of a cane, she came to meet her rescuers for the first time, giving each a big hug.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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