The Elsmere Fire Department responds to each call in an average of eight minutes and 42 seconds. That’s according to the Bethlehem Collaborative Task Force Final Report in 2010, based upon five years of data on all five fire districts within town.
That’s fast when you consider that’s about the same time the average American spends in the shower. In the time frame from when you turn on the hot water, to when you reach out for your towel, an Elsmere firefighter has geared up and is reaching out to someone in need.
“When people are running away from an accident, they are running in,” said Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, commending the Elsmere Fire Department on Saturday, May 7 from within the company’s firehouse on West Poplar Drive. But, that wasn’t the purpose of his visit. McCoy stood beside members of Bethlehem’s emergency service agencies, and town board members, to honor the acts of two strangers who didn’t run away.
“We had a very hectic weekend,” said Timothy. “My wife was out of town that weekend, and I was transporting the kids to all of their activities. A lot of driving, but a typical weekend for us.” Earlier in the day, he and his daughter attended a basketball tournament in Saratoga. Once the two returned to their Albany home, he only had minutes to get his 15-year-old son, Jack, to a baseball game in Delmar. The wool sweater he chose to wear that morning seemed fine for the morning, but by the time Jack needed to head to his game, the afternoon grew warm and sunny, and Timothy’s sweater grew uncomfortable. “The last thing I remember is traveling down 9W … feeling warm and thinking to myself, I’ll get to the game and take the sweater off, sit in the bleachers and there will be a nice breeze. It will be nice.
And, that’s the last I remember.”
According to Elsmere Fire Department, at approximately 2:30 p.m. the Berrys proceeded down Rte 9W, passing by Stewart’s on Frontage Road and turning off to the Delmar Bypass, just minutes away from Jack’s game. In doing so, they passed by Ludwik Branach and Wieslaw Szczutowski, two New York City residents in town to attend a birthday party, which they had trouble finding. Szczutowski turned onto to Frontage to head back south on the bypass. After a quick phone call, the two learned they had just missed their turn. Once the light turned green, they too headed south towards the bypass.
Szczutowski recalls being “10 meters” or approximately 30 feet away when he noticed the Berry’s family mini van starting to drift to the right. “I thought, ‘uh-oh, he wants to pull off,’” he said. “At that moment, I looked at the milage and it said 35 (mph), exactly.” The maximum speed limit on the Delmar Bypass is 55 mph. “Then, the next second, [the minivan] takes a sharp right, and down into the deep ditch.”
When Szczutowski and Branach witnessed the van go off the road, they immediately pulled their car over. Before Szczutowski was done parking his car, and dialing 911, Branach was running towards the the minivan, which had flipped onto its side.
“When I woke up… there was smoke coming into the car,” said Timothy. “I was kinda groggy and my son was on top of me… I didn’t know if had been hit by another car… But, I saw the smoke and I said, ‘Jack, you got to get out.’” But, Jack had his baseball cleats on, and didn’t want to step on his father. Instead, the boy attempted to kick out the windshield.
As Jack kicked at the windshield, Branach and Szczutowski were able to open the back hatch, allowing to clear out the smoke collecting inside. A third man, identified only as athletic and wearing an orange shirt, was able to climb onto the van, open the passenger side door and help Jack out. Simultaneously, Branach found a handhold to pull the front windshield away and to help the father out of the car.
Within moments, flames started to emerge from the car. Police who were at the scene urged everyone to move away. Within minutes, the car exploded.
“Everybody follows some type of belief that everything happens for a reason,” said Bethlehem Deputy Police Chief Adam Hornick. “If not for these two people, disregarding their own personal safety, and disregarding their own lives, the outcome would not have been what it is today.”
Timothy, 48, has since been checked out by a doctor. Despite a history of high blood pressure, he said his doctors could not find a reason why he lost consciousness. “One doctor said there is something in our necks that regulates blood pressure, and if you pinch your neck the right way, your blood pressure can drop and you can pass out,” said Timothy. He is scheduled to go back to his doctors for follow-up.
“I’m just glad to be alive,” said Timothy. “I’m very grateful of those gentlemen who were there. What they did was very heroic, courageous, beyond the call of duty and certainly impacted our lives for the better. … It is a positive story that shows that people are capable of goodness.”