Rivers Smith and Brandon Williams, colleagues in Regional One Health’s Outpatient Surgery Center, were inspired to work in health care out of a desire to give back to others.
They do so every day they’re on the job, but one day they went above and beyond the call of duty when they rescued a man from a burning vehicle.
Both say it’s simply human nature to help others in need, and that their training in the medical field helped them stay calm during the scary situation.
A crowded parking garage. A car engulfed in flames. Several tanks of combustible oxygen.
If it sounds like a recipe for disaster, it is. And if it weren’t for two Regional One Health employees who thought nothing of jumping into action when they saw a fellow human being in need, it very well could have been.
Registered nurse Rivers Smith and operating room tech Brandon Williams have worked together in Regional One Health’s Outpatient Surgery Center for about a year. They’ve been friends even longer, and often park near each other on the third floor of the employee parking deck and catch up during the walk to and from the hospital.
That routine turned into something extraordinary one day this fall.
“It was a normal day,” Rivers said. “We were walking to our cars after our shift, and all of a sudden we heard a guy yell for help. When we got to him, we saw his car was on fire – the whole front seat, dash, console and floor was in flames.”
It was clear the man was struggling and the fire was gaining ground, yet Rivers and Brandon did not hesitate – even after noticing the man had an oxygen tank that could explode in the heat.
Brandon ran to get a fire extinguisher while Rivers called 911.
Another colleague arrived, and Rivers gave her the phone so he could pull the man from the car. Due to some medical issues, the man had trouble walking, but Rivers was able to move him from the vehicle while Brandon, armed with the fire extinguisher, ran back to smother the flames.
The man was unhurt save for some burns to his hands, and as it turns out, the act of heroism had another beneficiary – as Rivers and Brandon helped the man get away from the burning car, a little border collie with a bandana tied around his neck jumped out and raced to safety.
When firefighters arrived, Rivers and Brandon learned just how dangerous of a situation they’d waded into – and just how big of a disaster they’d helped prevent. “After they took over the scene, they told us there were three more full oxygen canisters in the car,” Brandon said.
Still, it took a while for it to set in that they’d almost certainly saved a man’s life and most likely prevented a fire that could have caused significant property damage and injuries.
Neither man sought accolades.
Rivers told his mom about it, and Brandon called his girlfriend while he calmed down before driving home. Regional One Health leadership, who went on to honor Rivers and Brandon, first learned of the incident because the coworker who’d taken over the 911 call told them about it.
To this day, both say their reaction is just human nature – and they’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Rivers said as an RN he realizes he has knowledge and experience that can help others even when he isn’t on duty. “If I see anyone that needs help, I try to help. I think anyone who works in health care would try to help,” he said.
Brandon agreed, noting working in surgery prepares a person to react calmly to crisis. “I’ve worked in hospitals for a long time, so I know anything can happen. You learn to react and deal with situations effectively rather than freaking out,” he said.
While both said their medical training helped that afternoon, there was also something deeper at play – a genuine empathy and desire to give back that grew out of their life experiences.
When Rivers was in college, he was in a serious accident that left him with a life-threatening blood clot. It inspired him to switch his major from pharmacy to nursing: “I was really impressed with how
everyone cared for me, and I wanted to do the same for others,” he said.
Brandon can trace his desire to give back to a childhood experience.
“I got a lot of help when I was a kid. My dad was in between jobs one year, and we weren’t going to be able to have a Christmas. All we had was a paper tree we’d made,” he said. “People in the community heard about it and donated money through my school. They bought gifts for us and someone dressed up as Santa. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to pay it forward.”
They try to do so every day at Regional One Health.
While it may not always be as dramatic as pulling a man from a burning car, they know their actions impact patients, so they aim to make those actions compassionate and kind.
“It’s easy to say, ‘That’s not my problem. That’s not my job,’ but if you take time to help, people notice,” Brandon said. “It doesn’t have to be something big. If someone asks for directions, show them where they need to go. If a patient needs a drink, get it for them.”
“You can show a person you care by doing the little things,” Rivers added. “Even if you’re busy, you can do something small to help someone and lower their frustration level.”
It’s a philosophy that Rivers and Brandon said drew them to become part of the Regional One Health family in the first place. “That’s why we got into health care,” Rivers noted. “It would be hard to be in health care if you didn’t care about other people.”