Alberta man awarded heroism medal for pulling teen out of burning car

The 31-year-old is among seven Canadians being awarded Carnegie medals for heroism.

"His leg was stuck and the car was on fire. And I thought, 'This guy is going to burn' "

Adam Tarnowski, 31, helped pull 19-year-old Cameron Winters from his mangled car on a highway near Onoway, Alta. in July 2014. (Supplied)

Legs crushed by twisted metal, Cameron Winters dangled from the mangled floorboards of his upended pick-up truck.

Alive but unconscious, the 19-year-old was pinned inside the wreckage, trapped as the smoking engine burst into flames.

It was shortly after 6 a.m. when Winters' truck collided head-on with a mini-van on Highway 770 near Onoway, Alta., and flipped into the ditch.

The second vehicle careened off the road, killing the driver instantly.

The smoking wreckage came into view as Adam Tarnowski followed a bend in the highway.

"It was starting to burn, just by the driver's floorboards and it was pretty twisted metal from the collision," said Tarnowski. "The door was partially open, and his legs were crushed, holding him in the vehicle."

Tarnowski pried open the window frame with help from Carl Scott, a volunteer firefighter who was the first to arrive on scene.

"His leg was stuck and the car was on fire. And I thought, 'This guy is going to burn if we don't find a fire extinguisher,' but no one had one,"  said Scott.

"Adrenaline took over," said Tarnowski, who specializes in emergency rescue in his work as a welder. "I grabbed the window frame and we just started reefing on the window frame, and managed to bend it back."

Added Tarnowski: "The truck was burning in the ditch just a few feet away, and he had some fireworks in his truck box. The fireworks were shooting off, the tires were exploding the gas tank was venting, there was like six-foot flames."

Winters was carried to safety just moments before the truck was completely engulfed in flames.

The teen was severely injured, and had to be airlifted to University of Alberta Hospital, but made a full recovery. 

Tarnowski's heroics in the July 2014 rescue are being recognized by the U.S.-based Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, which recognizes extraordinary acts of heroism by civilians in the U.S. and Canada.

The 31-year-old Onoway man is among seven Canadians being awarded the latest Carnegie medals for heroism, it was announced Wednesday. 

"It's a great honour," Tarnowski said.

With files from CBC's Radio Active