Saying they personified the kind of people Andrew Carnegie envisioned when he created the Carnegie Medal more than 100 years ago, executives with the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission presented medals Wednesday to two Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputies who pulled a 65-year-old Wichita man from a burning vehicle nearly two years ago.
Deputies Thomas Delgado and Joseph Page said they are humbled by the “hero” label, insisting they were simply doing their job when they rescued David Ong.
Shortly after 7 a.m. on Aug. 31, 2011, in the 3700 block of South Broadway, Delgado was on patrol when he spotted the rear of a maroon pickup on fire after it had crashed into a guardrail on the south side of a bridge. Authorities would later learn that Ong had suffered a medical condition.
Delgado said Wednesday that he thought Ong would get out of the truck. Instead, Ong clutched the steering wheel, revving the engine as he shifted between drive and reverse.
A rear tire, flat and spinning, sent showers of sparks that apparently set the truck on fire. Delgado said he kept telling Ong to get out of the truck, but he didn’t obey. As the fire built and spread, Delgado said he reached through the driver’s window to try to unbuckle Ong’s seatbelt, but Ong grabbed his arm.
Page arrived at the scene about a minute after Delgado.
“I was so thankful Joe showed up,” Delgado said Wednesday.
He knew it would take two people to pull Ong out of the window because the driver’s door was damaged in the collision with the guardrail and was jammed shut.
Page used a small fire extinguisher to try to douse the flames around the gas tank. That slowed the fire down a little, but the extinguisher soon emptied.
As the fire grew worse, Delgado said, a tire popped from the heat. Both deputies jumped back, thinking the gas tank was going to explode.
Then, without saying a word to each other, Delgado and Page rushed the truck at the same time, fighting through the heat and smoke.
Delgado used a knife to cut the seat belt. Page grabbed Ong’s right arm and pulled him off the steering wheel and toward the window. Delgado grabbed the other arm, and together they yanked him through the window.
As they dragged Ong across Broadway to safety, the fire engulfed the pickup’s cab. Ong sustained minor burns and smoke inhalation. Delgado and Page were treated for smoke inhalation.
The whole episode lasted less than two minutes, though Page said it seemed much shorter than that.
“It was really fast,” he said.
Both deputies on Wednesday said they fear fire more than almost anything. But they said they overcame that fear to rescue Ong.
Page and Delgado were among 18 people across the United States and Canada to be selected as the latest recipients of the Carnegie Hero award, which was established by Carnegie in 1904 following a mining disaster near Pittsburgh that included more than one rescue attempt. More than 9,500 medals have been awarded to people in the U.S. and Canada since then.
Page called receiving the medal “really humbling,” and Delgado said their rescue seemed pretty tame compared with circumstances overcome by other medal recipients.
“I knew I couldn’t live with myself not doing something” in an effort to save Ong, Delgado said.