First Responders Recall 6-Hour Rescue of Truck Driver

SCRANTON, Pa. -- First responders say that after a crash, your chances of survival greatly increase if you get to the hospital within an hour. They call it the "golden hour."

So, hopes were low as firefighters in Lackawanna County spent six hours pulling a tractor-trailer driver from a wreck earlier this month.

The driver survived.

His rescuers say it's not the only miracle to come from the crash.

John Bunalski, a tractor-trailer driver from New Jersey, is at Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton recovering after a crash near Clarks Summit almost two weeks ago.

Several of the first responders who rescued him have come here to visit him, something they say they've never been compelled to do before.

When firefighters came up on the crash scene on Valentine's Day on a highway off-ramp near Clarks Summit, they were certain it was going to be a recovery, not a rescue.

John Bunalski

Then, they heard a yell from inside the crumpled cab, someone screaming, "Get me out of here!"

"He was with us the whole period of time, conscious, alert, he was talking to the staff that was inside the truck," recalled Chinchilla Hose Company Chief Sean Connolly.

Firefighters from Chinchilla Hose Company, Clarks Summit Fire Company, and Dickson City Fire Company reflected on the longest crash extrication any of them have ever experienced.

"The more we got into the extrication, it just escalated. The cards kept getting stacked against us, you know? Through teamwork and our training, we adapted and overcame," said Mike Pehonich, Chinchilla Hose Company.

Finally, after six hours and dismantling most of the truck, firefighters were able to free Bunalski.

His rescuers say he's just as tough as they are.

"Certainly to be commended because of the position he was in and the pain he was in, to endure it for that amount of time. And it was an extremely cold day as well. He was in just a t-shirt," said Jeff Ames, Clarks Summit Fire Company.

A firefighter's goal is to spend as little time as possible with a patient.

"Usually, we're in and out and gone, but this one, we spent so much time together, you know, it felt like we grew a bond," said Kevin Quinn, Chinchilla Hose Company.

After the crash was cleared, these firefighters decided the six hours they spent with John Bunalski wasn't enough, so last week, they went to see him in the hospital.

"I've never done that in the amount of time being in the fire service. It's just, something told me to do it," said Jason Saar, Chinchilla Hose Company.

First responders rarely get to see the payoff of their hard work. This time, they're walking away with a friend.

"He couldn't thank us enough, and I already feel as though I know the guy, in just that afternoon, down to the hour we spent at the hospital with him. It was a good experience," Saar said.

While firefighters were working on rescuing Bunalski, there were fears that surgeons would have to amputate his leg to free him. Thanks to the firefighters' efforts, they did not have to do that. Bunalski still has a long road ahead of him, but he is listed in good condition at Geisinger Community Medical Center.

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