IDAHO FALLS — Members of the Idaho Falls Fire Department and Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office were honored by the American Red Cross for saving a man trapped under a truck for two days.
The deputies and firefighters were deemed “East Idaho Real Heroes” during a ceremony at the Waterfront at Snake River Landing March 7.
Joe Rightmire was pinned underneath his pickup truck in a remote part of Bonneville County for 48 hours last August. He had rolled down a ravine and ended up unable to move while his head was partially submerged in water and sharp sticks were jabbing into his scalp.
“I was adamant that I was going to die because I wasn’t sure if anyone was looking for me,” Rightmire said after being rescued. “I was screaming and crying, trying to get someone’s attention, and where my truck was you wouldn’t have been able to see me or hear me.”
After two days, Joe’s sister, Tasha, became concerned that her brother wasn’t home or picking up his phone.
She and some friends set off to look for him and, miraculously, found his truck.
“It was fairly remote – dirt roads to get there, no cell service, no radio service,” recalls Idaho Falls Firefighter Connor Cook. “It was just a complicated dynamic.”
Cook and his partner, firefighter Jeff Hardy, were first to arrive on the scene. They admit they didn’t know how to free Rightmire and had never seen anything like it.
“He was asking for help but how he was positioned in the vehicle, it was very muffled and he only had just a corner of his mouth,” Hardy tells EastIdahoNews.com.
Nothing was supporting the underside of the truck and the top was lying against dirt and mud, so any sudden movement could result in disaster.
The firefighters called for extrication equipment and additional help from the fire department and Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office arrived.
“This is the most complex rescue I’ve seen in 20 years. I’ve never seen an extrication or a situation like this,” says Idaho Falls Battalion Chief Lance Johnson.
Bonneville County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Vasquez was at his home barbequing when he heard the call on the radio. He jumped in his truck and headed for the foothills.
“We’ve never trained for anything like that. Either us or the fire (department),” Vasquez says. “I was calling for ropes, I was calling out for shovels, handyman jacks – everything that was inside my truck that we could use to try and free up the truck that was pinning him.”
For two hours, fighting the setting sun, rescuers worked to free Rightmire.
“The hardest part is he was like, ‘Please don’t leave me, don’t let me go, don’t let me die here,'” Cook says.
Rightmire remembers Hardy holding his hand the entire time and assuring him that things would work out.
Finally, after inserting large airbags under the truck, crews slowly raised it off of the injured man.
“We were able to push against the truck with the side of the bank of the creek and it pushed it up and away from the victim and we actually brought him through the windshield out his door,” Vasquez says.
Rightmire was flown to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center where doctors diagnosed him with a broken collarbone, serious bruising, a hurt ankle and other injuries.
But, just days later, he was well enough to hold a news conference where he publicly thanked the rescue crews who saved him.
“I can’t give these guys enough gratitude for getting me out of there and making sure I was OK,” Rightmire said, wiping tears from his eyes. “They were heroes, and they thought quick, and as the airbags lifted up, I could move my head.”
Firefighters and law enforcement officers deal with life and death situations every day, but this is a call, and a young man, these responders will likely never forget.
“To see him and to talk with him and just the minor, minor injuries – it was just incredible when you think about it,” Hardy says.
Cook adds, “We were like whatever it takes. If he lives, if he dies, whatever it takes – we will get him out.”