CLEARWATER — Had the two firefighters swum up to the sinking car any later, the 91-year-old driver might have drowned.
"They didn't hesitate, and that's the bottom line," Clearwater Fire & Rescue Assistant Chief Ricky Stasiowski said after Friday's dramatic rescue.
Medics Paul Sudduth and Andrew Sullivan explained to reporters how they pulled off their quick and timely rescue of driver Harry Hefter.
The incident took place at about 12:03 p.m., according to the Florida Highway Patrol, inside Top of the World, a sprawling 55-and-over community at 2022 Camelot Drive.
Hefter was driving a red 2013 Hyundai Sonata west on Utopian Drive E, east of Utopian Boulevard, the FHP said, when he lost control while turning left into a parking space. The Hyundai then struck another vehicle and a wall, drove through the space and ended up in a pond.
When the medics arrived, they said the Hyundai was plummeting nose-first into the pond, weighed down by its engine. Hefter had climbed into the backseat and was clinging to the last few inches of air left inside as water gushed into the car.
Sudduth and Sullivan, wearing life vests and carrying a portable flotation device, swam out to the vehicle. The medics said the water was up to Hefter's neck. The doors were unlocked, so the pair pulled Hefter out as the car continued to sink into the murky water.
As they swam back to shore with the driver, the medics said they turned back and saw the sedan go under.
The driver would probably have not have made it out on his own, the medics said.
"He was just gassed," Sullivan said.
Hefter didn't explain how the car ended up in the pond, they said. He suffered minor injuries, the FHP said, and was taken to Mease Countryside Hospital as a precaution. He was reported to be in stable condition there.
Stasiowski said the two medics (that's what Clearwater Fire & Rescue calls its firefighters who are also trained as paramedics) were trained in rescuing the occupants of a sinking vehicle.
They also faced the same dangers anyone else would have when diving into dark, unfamiliar waters (including alligators).
Sudduth and Sullivan — who both have about three years logged with the department — said it feels good to be part of a successful rescue, starting with the quick-thinking bystanders who immediately called 911.
"It was a chain reaction," Sudduth said. "I'm just glad to be part of it."
Fire Medic Paul Sudduth and Fire Medic Andrew Sullivan were the two crew members who pulled the elderly man from the sinking car. pic.twitter.com/4M0JzrS9LV— @clearwaterfire (@clearwaterfire) July 13, 2018
Fire Medic Paul Sudduth and Fire Medic Andrew Sullivan were the two crew members who pulled the elderly man from the sinking car. pic.twitter.com/4M0JzrS9LV
Two of our personnel pulled a 91-year-old man out of this sinking car earlier today after it plunged into a pond. He's been taken to a hospital in stable condition. pic.twitter.com/KdlwkL57nH— @clearwaterfire (@clearwaterfire) July 13, 2018
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Two of our personnel pulled a 91-year-old man out of this sinking car earlier today after it plunged into a pond. He's been taken to a hospital in stable condition. pic.twitter.com/KdlwkL57nH