WARNER ROBINS -- A routine cleanup after a morning accident on Interstate 75 suddenly turned into the call above all calls for Macon-Bibb County firefighters last July 11 when a fellow firefighter was struck by a passing motorist and hurled at least 50 feet into the air.
Fire Lt. Akwasi Maru and firefighters Ben Bollinger and Brian Sauls were recognized Wednesday by the American Red Cross for their heroic efforts to save the life of Sgt. Eric John, a 20-year veteran firefighter.
The firefighters were praised for their bravery, courage and quick-thinking skills.
“To see one of our own go down, it’s a different event,” Maru told those assembled through prerecorded video remarks. “It’s very stressful.
“For a split second, there was a panic, almost like a freeze, like what do I do. But after that split second, our training kicked in, and we automatically went to perform CPR on him.”
Maru said he experienced sleepless nights and could not drive on the interstate for a number of weeks after John was injured.
“It was very traumatic for me and the rest of guys. ... It was very hard to walk back in the fire station after that happened because what’s going through our mind is: ‘Will it happen again? It could have been of us that day,’” he said.
Bollinger agreed that the event was tougher to handle because John was one of their own.
“Every situation we go into, you never know what’s going to happen,” Bollinger said in prerecorded comments. “But that’s the job of a firefighter. You go in, you don’t know what’s going on, and you just adapt to the situation as best you can and do what you’re trained to do.”
Sauls said he and other firefighters don’t consider themselves heroes.
“We were just doing our job, what we’ve been trained to do,” Sauls said in his prerecorded remarks. “We’d do it for any civilian, much less somebody that we know. We try to approach every call with 100 percent effort.
“But on that day with Sgt. John, it just hit home a little closer, something that we never thought of doing and hoped that we would never have to do. For Lt. Maru, for Private Bollinger and myself, we’re very appreciative of this award. It means a lot to us. It lets us know that our peers and citizens know that we’re out there trying hard to save lives,” Sauls said.
John, in a wheelchair, attended the Hometown Heroes recognition breakfast at the Museum of Aviation to see his fellow firefighters recognized. John received a standing ovation from those assembled.
“It’s like being rescued by your family,” John said afterward.
He said he’s been walking, is awaiting knee replacement surgery and hopes to rejoin his fellow Macon-Bibb County firefighters.
The firefighters from Station 104/Shift 2 received the Fire Rescue Hero award.
More hometown heroes
The nine other hometown heroes from Middle Georgia recognized at the fifth annual event are:
Animal advocate hero: Skyler N. Bustle, a volunteer for Georgia Canine Rescue and Rehabilitation;
Disaster relief hero: Jason Patrick, of Bonaire, for helping stranded motorists during a snowstorm in Atlanta;
Community impact hero: Christine Watson for her work to end human trafficking;
Emergency response hero: David Gowan for designing and managing emergency response and preparedness plans for Bibb County schools;
Good Samaritan hero: Sister Elizabeth Greim for her work to set up food pantries and a day shelter for the homeless in Macon;
Good Samaritan hero: Robbie White for starting a cancer support organization while she herself battles colon cancer;
Guardian angel hero: Chuck Hester for a positive impact on children through participation in 30-30 Ministries that provides hunting and fishing experiences at no cost;
Military hero: U.S. Air Force Sgt. Melissa Kay Erwin for numerous volunteer activities, including helping those with post-traumatic distress disorder from which she also suffers;
Paving the way youth hero: Kelsey Hall, whose battle with childhood bone cancer has inspired adults and children alike;
Paving the way youth hero: Morgan Carr, an eighth-grader at Feagin Middle School, for his Eagle Scout project to build four fully adjustable desks for wheelchair-bound students;
Paving the way youth hero: Jennifer Horn, a Crawford County High School Future Educators of America member, for working with a volunteer reading program.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.