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February 03, 2021

APCo Employees Save Motorist from Burning Vehicle

Line Mechanic-B Brandon Johnson (L) and Distribution Line Crew Supervisor John Hughes didnt' hesitate when a passing motorist was faced with a life or death situation.

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After more than 35 years with the company, John Hughes, distribution line crew supervisor, has been a part of his fair share of broken pole trouble tickets.

But for the numerous poles he’s helped to replace, and the many more probably to come, none will ever be more memorable than the one where he and line mechanic Brandon Johnson saved a life.

On November 4, responding to the broken pole, the pair out of North Charleston arrived at a road in Clendenin, West Virginia ahead of the rest of the crew. While waiting, they got the line grounded and removed the wire out of the road.“It was just a normal ticket, just like all the others,” Hughes said. “And in a matter of seconds, everything changed.”

Hughes and Johnson used fire extinguishers from their trucks to battle back the flames while they waited on the fire department.

The single-lane, small gravel road wasn’t a huge byway for traffic, so Hughes and Johnson parked their vehicles off to the side and threw on their hazard lights. Johnson, who had left his vehicle and was standing at the window of Hughes’ truck, said he noticed an SUV pulling off to the side of the road.

Johnson said at first glance, the vehicle looked to be overheating. But when they looked closer, he saw there was a bigger problem.

“As it pulled up, I saw smoke coming out of the engine and thought they were just having car problems,” Johnson said. “But then John screamed that the vehicle was on fire, and we could hear the guy saying he couldn’t get out. Things happened pretty quickly after that.”

“First thing I did was busted out the window,” Johnson said. “But he was a fairly large man in his 70s so I couldn’t get him out. I then tried to pry the door open but it was jammed. So I just kept beating and pulling on the door.”

Hughes and Johnson quickly moved their company vehicles to keep the flames from spreading to their trucks. Hughes grabbed a fire extinguisher from his truck and started dousing the flames while Johnson tried to remove the man from the vehicle. Johnson initially wasn’t able to remove the trapped motorist and had to improvise.

“At that point, I couldn’t see Brandon or the guy because smoke was everywhere,” said Hughes. “It was hot and you could definitely feel the fire. I was doing everything I could to try to keep the fire off of Brandon so he could get him out. It was only a few seconds but it felt like forever.”

Johnson eventually got the door open and pulled the man to safety. Once they got him out of the vehicle, they called the fire department before Johnson grabbed the fire extinguisher from his truck and joined Hughes in trying to keep the fire from spreading to the nearby woods.

“Every time a tire would bust, the flames would jump over to the leaves,” Hughes said.

It took the fire department about 20 minutes to arrive after the initial 911 call. Hughes said as they sat and watched the car continue to burn, the motorist thanked them over and over for saving his life.

Hughes and Johnson said that they both now understand the gravity of the situation. But in the moment, with no time to spare, neither one thought of the consequences.

“I don’t think there was hesitation from either one of us,” said Johnson. “We both saw someone that needed our immediate help, so we just did what needed to be done.”