On July 5, 2011, Robert was looking forward to enjoying a day of boating and fishing at a nearby lake. As he and his fiancé were heading home to prepare for the outing, they came upon a wrecked truck and pulled over to assist. “When we came around the turn and saw the truck and saw it was on fire, I could only think of my fear of dying in a burning vehicle, and I knew without a doubt that I had to help the person or people that were in the truck get out,” Robert said.
Robert, who has been a correctional officer at SCI Huntingdon in Huntingdon, Pa., since 2001, heard the man inside screaming, “Help me.” He told his fiancé to call 911 and block the scene so that he could help the victim. “The truck quickly became fully engulfed as I approached it. I knew I had little to no time to get him and go. But I put my fear aside and acted to help the person in need,” he said. “I could have never lived with myself just leaving him there and not doing something when I could hear him screaming for help.” Without a second thought, Robert reached into the car and grabbed the victim, Timothy Brookins, by the shoulders and pulled him out. His legs were on fire.
“After initially getting him out, I quickly patted the fire off his clothing. The truck started to whistle, the fire was raging and I knew that it was going to explode,” Robert said. That’s when Brookins told him he had a full tank of gas. Robert, who knows the importance of keeping a level and cool head from his more than 10 years in corrections, quickly dragged him to safety as the truck exploded and saturated the area with gasoline, moving the fire closer.
Robert performed a quick assessment for bleeding and broken bones on the victim, and he knew that his leg was broken. Brookins, an EMT, said that his ribs hurt, but that he felt he had no spinal or neck injuries. With the fire at their feet again, Robert decided it was safe to move him another 10-20 feet away. By this time, more bystanders arrived at the scene, aiding them with towels and blankets. While waiting 25 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, Robert worked to keep Brookins comfortable and administered first aid to prevent him from going into shock. His fiancé called Brookins’ wife and employer to reassure him and keep him as calm as possible.
Robert kept in touch with Brookins’ wife in the days after the event to check on his condition, and since that day, he and Brookins have become good friends. “We went to meet him for the first time about seven days after the accident … It was a truly emotional meeting,” Robert said. “Words cannot describe how I feel or how he feels. We are just glad that the situation has a positive outcome.”
“Brookins made it quite clear that if Robert hadn't reacted so quickly to aid him, he would not be alive today,” said Tabb Bickell, superintendent at SCI Huntingdon. “I am proud to say Robert represents the strong service ethic of staff at SCI Huntingdon and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.” While Brookins, who has undergone at least six surgeries, has a long road to recovery, thanks to Robert, he will live and hopefully regain full use of his leg.
This experience has changed Robert’ life. “It made me realize that when there is a time of need or a crucial situation, that hopefully someone there will react in the same manner I did without hesitation or fear of what else could happen,” he said. “…That someone would do the same for my family, friends or me and give a second chance at life.”