2 Cape Breton men given bravery medal after dramatic rescue

Two men from Waycobah First Nation, N.S., who risked their own lives to rescue a couple of American tourists from a burning truck will receive the Nova Scotia Medal of Bravery on Wednesday.

The men from Waycobah First Nation risked their own lives to save the driver trapped in a burning truck

Liam Bernard received the Governor General's Star of Courage in June from then-Governor General of Canada David Johnston. He and his friend, Shane Bernard, risked their lives to pull a driver from a burning truck and will receive a Nova Scotia Medal of Bravery. (gg.ca)

Two men from Waycobah First Nation, N.S., who risked their own lives to rescue tourists from a burning truck will receive the Nova Scotia Medal of Bravery on Wednesday.

Friends Liam Bernard and Shane Bernard were on their way to Halifax to look for work on the morning of Sept.16, 2016, when they came upon the scene of a two-vehicle collision near Melford, Cape Breton.

The female driver of an SUV was dead and a truck pulling a camper trailer was in the ditch.

"When we came across it, it was moments after the collision happened, and there was a fire brewing under the hood," said Shane Bernard.

Other people on the scene helped the passenger out of the truck and Liam Bernard walked him to a safe distance.

Driver pinned

"Then I could hear them saying, 'Someone needs to help. We can't get this guy out of the truck,'" Liam remembered.

The driver was still inside, pinned by the dashboard and unable to free himself.

Rescuer Shane Bernard. (Holly Conners/CBC)

"I noticed the motor was starting to catch on fire," said Liam. "So I told my buddy, Shane, 'You go find a fire extinguisher, and come back. I'm going to try to get this guy out of here.'"

Liam, a father of four, climbed into the passenger seat, and tried ripping apart the dashboard.

"The flames are, like, going right through the windshield and through the floor, and I'm trying to get him out and I couldn't get him, and people are yelling at me to get out of the truck, get out of the truck."

Choking on smoke, Liam jumped back out.

Fire and explosions

At that point, someone let the truck door close, but Liam could still hear the man inside calling for help.

Another bystander approached the truck, but was driven back by an explosion from under the hood.

"So I went back to the truck," said Liam. "And buddy's like, 'Man, back away, man. It's gonna happen quick. There's nothing you can do.'"

Liam decided to try one more time. He jumped back in.

"I was just thinking I wouldn't want to see my dad or my uncles go through that. A conscious person that's probably just got a broken leg or something, and then for him to burn to death like that, I was like, 'I'll try my best.'"

Free at last

Shane held the truck door open while two other people pulled on Liam, as Liam pulled on the driver. 

"I can even remember the hair burning off the side of me," said Shane, "and when Liam was inside, he said he could see the melted dashboard. That's how hot it was."

The driver was freed. Shane then helped drag the injured man away from the ditch.

"We wanted to get him out of harm's way because there was some loud explosions taking place and we were all pretty scared," said Shane.

The rescuers later learned the injured men were from Milwaukee, Wis. They sustained broken bones in the crash.

Shane will accept his bravery medal at a ceremony at Province House.

Liam's family, including two of his children, will accept his on this behalf. He's living out in Edmonton now, still looking for work.

Of the day he saved a life, he reflected, "My heart said it was the right thing to do at that moment in time."

About the Author

Holly Conners


Holly Conners is a reporter and current affairs producer who has been with CBC Cape Breton since 1998. Contact her at holly.conners@cbc.ca.