New Brunswick

'He would not have survived': Bus driver, teachers rescue man from burning car

Charter bus driver Orland Clark says he's sure the quick action he and two high school teachers took Saturday night to rescue a man from a burning car saved that man's life. 

'I just couldn't stand there and have him perish in the car in front of me'

Orland Clark, a bus driver with Optimum Ride, helped rescue a trapped man from a burning car. (Submitted/Orland Clark)

Bus driver Orland Clark says he's sure the quick action he and two high school teachers took Saturday night to rescue a man from a burning car saved the man's life. 

"Everything happens for a reason and I always believe I'm in the right place at the right time all the time," Clark said Sunday. "I just couldn't stand there and have him perish in the car in front of me." 

Clark, 53, lives in Saint John and drives for Optimum Bus. He had just dropped off a group of students and teachers at Nackawic High School.

The students were returning from a Reach for the Top competition in Campbellton. His next stop was Fredericton, where he was heading to get students home.

That's when he saw flames. He hoped it wasn't an accident, but it was.

RCMP say two small cars collided head-on on Route 105 near Nackawic. There were two occupants in one vehicle, a 20-year-old woman who was driving and a 36-year-old man.

The sole occupant of the other vehicle was a 23-year-old man.

Clark said as they got closer to the scene they could see a woman who had stopped to help running to the burning car trying to get the door open. The 23-year-old man was inside.

"It was fully engulfed in the front end and starting into the passenger compartment," he said. 

Rushed to help

Clark stopped the bus a safe distance away and grabbed a fire extinguisher. "Myself and a couple of the teachers rushed towards the scene," he said.

Daniel Ferron was one of those teachers. "I grabbed my coat and I followed the driver." 

The driver in the second car was injured and trapped in the car, but Clark said that car was not on fire. The passenger got out.

"My priority was to get to the fire," Clark said.

"The car was so smashed in the front and the flames were there, so I used the fire extinguisher up completely and got the flames at bay in front enough to know there had been a gentleman's hand sticking out there the whole time." 

Clark said they could see that his arm was trapped in the twisted metal. "He was screaming and it was a little bit frightening but we kept our composure," he said.

The three men tried to open the car doors but couldn't. "My first reaction was to break the window somehow," he said.

Broke window

As this was happening, another man who stopped had grabbed the empty fire extinguisher and was at the other car trying to help the trapped woman.

"Somehow I managed to grab the top of the window with my hands and I just pulled as hard as I could and the window smashed," Clark said.

After freeing the man's arm, Clark said he and another teacher were able to pull the injured driver out through the opening. He added the man had a broken left leg, cuts and his hand and arm were burned.

"I don't know what strength he had but Orland, he found a place to put his hands and he pulled on the window and the window broke," Ferron said.

"I'd do again in a heartbeat if I had to. I wouldn't hesitate, it's just my very first reaction- Orland Clark

But in addition to rescuing the man, the bus driver said a little black dog jumped out of the car when he broke the window. 

"A little black dog jumped out and took off right down the road and I hope they found it again cause we don't know what happened to it." 

'He would not have survived'

As soon as the two drivers were freed from the vehicles, Clark said ambulances, the fire department and police arrived but he said he wasn't paying attention to time or how long it took. 

He said it took less than five minutes for the car to burn. 

"As emergency people were arriving the car was fully engulfed," he said. "He would not have survived." 

Ferron said to him having that fire extinguisher there and using it gave them the time they needed to save the man.

"Like a minute after we pulled him out the car was on fire, the seat and everything was on fire. We pulled him out at the right time."

Ferron said he checked the car in case there were more passengers inside but there was no one else.

Clark said once they realized there was nothing more they could do, he approached a police officer and provided him with contact information and asked if they could leave so he could get the students home to Fredericton and Saint John.

Teachers dealt with the students on the bus who were in a bit of shock at what had happened.

"I had a little talk with the kids as soon as we got on the bus and I said, 'I know this seems shocking and everything but just understand that everything's OK, we're all safe, and we saved a man's life." And everybody just gave a cheer." 

Clark continued on his journey and drove the students to Fredericton High School and Kennebecasis Valley High School. 

Not a hero

After hearing what happened from her son. Katie Bowden posted a message on Facebook commending Clark for his quick action. "That is exactly the kind of person I want driving my child," she said.

But Clark said he can't take all the credit for the rescue adding two teachers were just as much a part of it as he was. 

For his part, Ferron said he felt calmer than he thinks he should have been throughout the incident. But, but added he felt confident in the leadership Clark showed.

On Sunday morning, Clark said he was emotional and thankful but didn't think he was a hero. 

"I'd do again in a heartbeat if I had to. I wouldn't hesitate. It's just my very first reaction. I don't think about the car exploding. I don't think about anything but getting that victim out with whatever it takes." 

Clark is hoping he can learn the name of the man they rescued to find out how he's doing.

About the Author

Gail Harding

Web Writer

Gail Harding began her career as a journalist in the newspaper industry before joining CBC as a web writer.

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