Tim Pastore stepped back for a moment on Thursday after seeing the damage to the fire engine he was driving nearly a week earlier that collided head on with a passenger car.
"I don't remember it being this bad," he said as he assessed the pumper's wreckage.
He doesn't recall the extremity of the crashed truck, because as soon as the engine came to a stop at the bottom of the 30 foot embankment west of War Hill Park Road on Hwy. 53, he and volunteer firefighter Eli Kesting, jumped to the attention of the young lady in the passenger car that was in dire need of medical care.
"We were more concerned about her," Kesting said. "The most important thing for us was to help her."
Kesting, who joined the department as a volunteer less than a year ago, and Pastore, a 10 year fire service veteran, did exactly what their training has led them to do, even as the injuries they sustained in the crash began to come apparent.
"I think it's very commendable that their first thoughts were not on their own injuries," said Dawson County Emergency Services Capt. Jeff Bailey. "First and foremost on their minds was doing their duty as firefighters. They immediately went back to their damaged rig to get extrication tools to try to assist the other person involved in the incident."
Just before noon on Oct. 2, Pastore and Kesting were responding with emergency lights and sirens running to a call of an "unconscious, unresponsive, not breathing" patient when they collided with a teen driver, who was attempting to pass traffic that had slowed and was moving on to the shoulder for the oncoming fire engine.
After impact, the fire engine traveled off the shoulder and down on embankment, while the teen, whose name has not been formally released, was entrapped within her crushed car.
"Even immediately following the accident, they were able to extricate themselves and saw a need to provide equipment to get her treatment and expedite her extrication and get her on to the hospital," said Chief Lanier Swafford. "We're very proud of their actions, their reactions following the accident."
Emergency and defensive driving training held nearly two weeks earlier, along with wearing the departmental required seatbelts, is likely to have played a role in Pastore and Kesting not be injured more than the cuts and bruises they were treated for an area hospital, according to Swafford.
"We train for events like this on a regular basis and hope they never come, but fortunately last week proved that when they do, we can have positive results," he said. "The bottom line is this was an accident and a tragic accident. Our focus right now is the young lady that was involved and supporting her and her family."
Swafford said the 17-year-old from Cumming continues to improve, but remains hospitalized.
"Our care doesn't end when we get somebody to the hospital," he said. "Somebody has been at the hospital probably every other day since Monday [after the wreck]. We've talked to her parents, and we're just trying to support them during her time of recovery."
There has also been an outpouring of support for all involved, from family, friends and community members checking in on Pastore and Kesting, to volunteer and off-duty emergency personnel offering to cover shifts, and fire departments across the state asking if they can help out.
"We appreciate everyone's thoughts and concerns and kind words," Pastore said.