Two PennDOT interns were honored as Workplace Heroes for taking the right action when they found themselves at the right place to help a stranger in need earlier this summer.
On July 16, construction interns, Jacob Southwick of Titusville and Nick Swatzler of Galloway assisted in lifting a tractor that had fallen onto its driver.
The two happened upon the scene while traveling to inspect a detour sign that had been posted in connection with the "Big I" Roundabout project in Crawford County.
What first caught their attention was another driver who had already pulled over to the side of the road.
"We thought he was acting strange, but as we got closer we saw the tractor," Southwick said. "The windows were down, and we could hear the guy yelling for help."
They safely parked their vehicle and went to see what was happening. What they discovered was 76-year-old James Garfield of Crawford County had accidentally rolled his small tractor into a ditch, and he was pinned beneath the machinery.
Once trapped, Garfield struggled to get the attention of those driving past.
"I could hardly see anyone because I was upside down and backwards," Garfield said. "I was covered by the tractor."
Those who did stop, including Southwick and Swatzler, quickly sprang into action.
The other good Samaritan on scene, a former EMT, assessed the situation as the PennDOT employees tried to talk with Garfield. With the ambulance on the way, they decided to take additional action as Garfield was having trouble breathing.
"We decided to lift the tractor and pull (him) out," Southwick said. "I was glad we got there when we did because it took all three of use to lift the tractor."
They remained on the scene until the ambulance and Vernon Township Police arrived.
"We wanted to make sure that he was OK," Swatzler said.
Once Garfield was loaded into the ambulance, Swatzler and Southwick returned to their route and inspected the detour sign as assigned.
Three weeks later, Southwick and Swatzler were visit with Garfield, when he attended the Workplace Hero ceremony at the construction field office on August 7, 2019.
Workplace Hero is an award open to PennDOT employees who, during work hours, take actions that prevent the death or serious injury of a co-worker or member of public.
"I appreciate the help that was given and I'm so glad for their intervention," Garfield said.
Transportation Construction Manager 2, Chad Tarr, who supervises the interns, said it was a series of little decisions that led to the first-year employees being at the scene of the accident on Middle Road, like sending both of them to handle the possible sign relocation and taking a different route than normal.
"Nick and Jacob are a shining example of the high level of public service PennDOT employees provide every day," District 1 Executive Jim Foringer said. "These two gentlemen were not only at the right place at the right time but were willing to take the right action."
"You have to be ready for anything," Southwick said of his time working for PennDOT. "You have to be able to help people when they need it. I like that this job enables us to do that."