Tow Operator Hailed as Hero
By: Erez Kanaan, Tow Squad News. Published on: Subscribe in a reader
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TORONTO- When he first arrived on the accident scene, Steve Matchett quickly assumed it was simply another recovery job. A 14-ton tractor-trailer had toppled over on Highway 403 outside of Toronto. After 35-years on the job, he’d just about seen it all – and this was nothing new.
That’s when the fire chief rushed over to him with word that a woman was trapped inside a badly crumpled SUV beneath the big rig. Medics could not recover her from the wreck and they needed his help removing the tractor-trailer before it collapsed further down.
Everyone on the scene could clearly see the danger. It didn’t take over a quarter century of tow experience to see the obvious – one wrong move and this accident could instantly become a fatality.
Edyta Tobiasz tried to remain as calm – and as still – as she possibly could. The 36-year old mother of two had only moments earlier been making her way back home, no different from any other day. Now her life hung in the balance, precariously positioned between 14-tons of steel and immovable concrete below.
While police and emergency response workers tried to comfort the terrified women, Steve jumped into action. He raced to a nearby shop for their largest rig and within minutes was back on scene with a plan of action.
Both vehicles had come to rest in a muddy ditch just off the highway. Matchett knew almost immediately that the ground was too soft and unpredictable for his heavy gear. He’d have to extend the boom from the highway and ever so gently begin the work.
He grabbed two straps, each capable of supporting 23,000 tons, and placed them in position beneath the toppled rig.
“I knew I had the capability and the experience, but sometimes bad things happen,” he said. “We were dealing with life or death and it’s in your hands and you don’t want to screw up.”
As nervous as he was, he knew there was one person even more on edge – so he crawled as close as he could get to the woman to hopefully offer some comfort.
He told her it would be very loud, but not to worry – that would just be the noise of the two large vehicles separating from one another as he lifted the rig. She reacted with nervous laughter and thanked him.
The tower knew that weight distribution was key. The rig would have to be lifted straight up from the site to minimize any shifting. It would also be performed incredibly slowly – rising only about three feet in the first hour.
As it ascended ever so marginally, firefighters attempted to maneuver pieces of lumber beneath it for support should the rig begin to drift back downward.
Then suddenly – a tremendous alarm shattered the scene.
The air horn was meant to signal something was wrong and all work should stop immediately. That’s what he did. He used the time to double-check his gear while waiting for things to proceed. All the while he wondered how this must all be for Tobiasz, still trapped within the wreckage.
The fire chief quickly gave the thumbs up, and work immediately resumed. Once they had raised the rig nearly two feet, there was enough clearance to pull the woman to safety and medical care.
In the end she wound up with only minor injuries, grateful to Matchett and all the personnel who worked so hard to free her.
At the scene Matchett was quickly hailed as a hero by the emergency workers who broke into applause once their patient was safely away from the wreck.
Matchett himself didn’t see it that way.
“I’m nobody’s hero for God’s sake,” Matchett said. “You just do what you gotta do when you gotta do it.”
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