Commuting PB firefighter rescues man

Daily News Staff Writer

Wednesday, Jan. 29. 2003

Palm Beach County, Fla -- Lt. Craig Stanfield has helped save his share of lives during 18 years as a firefighter and EMT for the Palm Beach Fire-Rescue department. But that was always after he arrived at work. With a team of trained professionals and state-of-the-art equipment at his side.
Duty called a little early for Stanfield Tuesday morning, when he witnessed a two-vehicle crash around 6 a.m. while driving to work on the Sawgrass Expressway in Broward County. A car clipped the back of a van in the northbound lanes, causing the van to cut across the southbound lanes at high speed, hit an embankment, and plunge down a ravine and into a canal. Stanfield called for help and hurried to the scene, where he found the van submerged in the chilly water, its headlights shining in the darkness. About 10 feet away from the van, the driver had been ejected into the canal.
"The gentleman was struggling to keep his head above the water," Stanfield recalled later Tuesday. "He was semi-conscious and couldn't move on his own. "I thought to myself, 'I guess we're going swimming this morning.'" He waded in, grabbed the man by the back of his shirt and pulled him onto the bank. "This gentleman was probably twice my size, so it was a struggle for me," said Stanfield, who is 42 and weighs 160 pounds. Stanfield talked to the man to reassure him and keep him calm until more help arrived. "He was doing fairly good, considering what he had been through," he said. The Coral Springs police were there five minutes later, and they were some of the longest minutes Stanfield can remember.
"The bank is about 20 feet going down. You can't hear any noise or see anybody. You're in the muck and the sawgrass. It's a pretty isolated feeling." The victim was taken to a local trauma center. According to Stanfield, the man was listed in stable condition Tuesday afternoon in the medical intensive care unit at North Broward Medical Center. No other driver stopped for the accident, which occurred along a remote stretch of road. Stanfield said he believes the man's chances of survival were about 50-50 if he had not been there to pull the victim from the water. "If I had been in that situation, I would hope somebody would stop for me," he said.
Most drivers are hesitant to stop for an accident, partly because they aren't sure what to do, said Fire-Rescue Chief Kent Koelz. "But here's a guy that stops, goes to work and does his job," Koelz said of Stanfield. "That's the way he is here at the fire department, too." When he arrived to work Tuesday, Stanfield had a leg up on his co-workers, who were scheduled for training on extracting victims from cars using the "jaws of life" at the south station.