A Fort St. John resident is being called a hero after he rescued a mother and her two children who were stuck in their vehicle after it was blown off a northern Alberta highway on the evening of Sunday, Dec. 9.
Jessie Filipponi was driving to Fort McMurray on an icy stretch of Highway 63 near remote Crow Lake when he saw tail lights shining from off the side of the highway.
“I almost drove right by them. You could hardly see anything but I could see these taillights off on the side,” Filipponi said.
Filipponi pulled his car over and climbed 40-feet down an embankment towards the car, which had careened off the road and struck a tree where it had come to rest.
Filipponi was surprised to find a mother and her two daughters, one nine and the other four, in the car.
“I could see this lady. She was trying to crawl out of her window but her car was kind of tilted on its side a little bit so she couldn’t get out,” Filipponi said.
Marie Traserall and her daughters, Bethany and Shandra, were on their way home to Fort McMurray when they were blown off the highway.
“There was traffic that passed but I think they just couldn’t see us and I wasn’t able to get out and climb the embankment to wave anyone down,” Traserall said in an email, adding that she couldn’t call for help because she didn’t have a phone.
Filipponi found that Traserall and Shandra, her eldest daughter, were dazed but otherwise unhurt.
The youngest daughter, Bethany, had hit her head hard on the side window and was bleeding. She had a big welt on her right eye and appeared very dazed.
Filipponi, a tow-truck driver trained as a first-responder, helped Traserall and Shandra out of the vehicle and encouraged them to get to his car, which was warm.
“I didn’t second-guess it or nothing. I was just so worried for the little girl,” said Filipponi, who has two little girls of his own.
To stem Bethany’s bleeding, Filipponi fashioned a tourniquet out of his shirtsleeve and tightly wrapped it around her head.
Filipponi said that the scariest thing for him was that unlike her older sister, Bethany wasn’t crying.
To protect her neck, Filipponi created an on-the-spot neck brace out of the child seat’s backrest and his coat sleeve.
He carried Bethany up to his car with the deep snow and temperature below -25 C with wind chill making things difficult.
“I don't know what exactly he did but five minutes later he came to his car and opened the back door and laid my daughter down,” Traserall said.
Because the location was so remote and phone service was spotty at best, Filipponi had to make several phone calls to 911 before he was confident that he had gotten through.
Thirty minutes later emergency services showed up and took Traserall and the girls to the hospital for treatment.
“I gave the paramedics all my information. I’m a first responder. I have all that training. I guess they just wanted my information in case something happened but I never heard nothing,” said Filipponi, adding that he had tried calling the hospital but hadn’t been able to get any information about the fate of the family he rescued.
He said that he is greatly relieved to hear that Traserall and Shandra are ok and that Bethany, who had a serious concussion and swelling, is being carefully looked after by doctors and is on the road to recovery.
The reunion between Filipponi and the Traserall’s began when she emailed the Alaska Highway News on Friday morning looking to thank the man she credits with possibly saving her daughter Bethany’s life.
A call placed to Generic Towing & Auto Parts, Filipponi’s employer, reconnected the rescuer with the gleeful Traserall.
“I’m going to send her a Christmas present. This is awesome,” said Filipponi when he was told that the Traserall family is doing well, adding that he owes them a child seat too.
Filipponi is a native of Comox, B.C. and has lived in Fort St. John for almost four years.
He said that he wishes that more people were trained to be first responders.
Kirsten Charlton of Maple Ridge B.C., Filipponi’s aunt, said that she isn’t surprised about her nephew’s brave action.
“He would run into a burning building if it meant he could save someone,” adding that she feels good that her nephew, who she says has always been a caring guy, is being recognized for his good deed.