Editor's note: As part of our year-end coverage, we look back at some of the biggest and most heroic news stories, and reconnect with some of the officers and departments involved in the incidents to find out what has developed since, and how the department has faired in the days and months following.
In this article, Officer Gerad Gonzalez looks back at an evening on patrol in August that quickly turned alarming, and how his immediate, courageous actions saved lives, and won't be soon forgotten by his thankful community and department.
By Officer Gerad Gonzalez
Manchester Police Department
MANCHESTER, Mo. — On August 16, I just pulled off onto the side of the road to observe traffic when a woman pulled up next to me and advised there was a car fire at a busy intersection just east of where I was parked.
I advised the police dispatcher of the report, and within 30 seconds I was on scene and noticed a black Chevy Tahoe on fire. Alongside the Tahoe was a Chevy Blazer fully engulfed in nearly 30 feet of flames. Both SUV's were severely wrecked.
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As I approached the Tahoe, I could see that the driver was seriously injured and unconscious. I climbed in the passenger side of the vehicle, grabbed the occupant and was able to pull him out of the driver’s seat. With the help of a witness, we dragged the driver away from the wreck. It was obvious that the driver had sustained a serious head injury.
It was a crackling fire, the gas tank blew, the tires blew and windows were popping.
I remember telling the witness before the tank blew, "We need to hurry!" I remember feeling the intense heat of the fire and recall thinking to myself, "I don't want to catch on fire."
After rescuing the driver, I was informed there was an injured female occupying the Blazer and she had escaped just before it burst into flames. I located her walking away from the scene in a daze. I noticed she was bleeding from a head-wound and her hair had been on fire. I escorted her to my police car and calmed her the best I could until a woman with a first aid kit walked up, and advised me she was a nurse and wanted to help.
Other police cars, fire & EMS arrived. It took the fire department about 10 minutes to fully extinguish the fire.
Since the date of the incident people continue to ask me about the accident and compliment me for saving the injured driver and to tell me how brave my actions were that night. My reply to them is, "I did what any other policeman would have done. It's just what we do."
On August 20, I received a Proclamation Award for Heroism presented by the Mayor of Manchester, and weeks later I was recognized by ASIS International who nominated and presented me with an award.
On December 7, I was nominated for the Manchester Police Department's 2012 Officer Of The Year Award presented by my Sergeant and Lieutenant.
It's a real honor to still be receiving thank you cards 4 months after the accident took place. It just goes to show you that what occurred that night touched a lot of residents and citizens.