When Joylynn Pursley got into her car on a morning last spring, she never expected the trip would end with rescue workers cutting away pieces of her vehicle to remove her.
Several months later, she's met her rescuers again -- but under better circumstances.
On March 13, a dump truck slammed into Pursley's sport utility vehicle on Columbia Road at Range Road in Appling. Her vehicle flipped onto its side in a deep culvert; Pursley was badly injured and trapped inside.
The first emergency responder to arrive, Columbia County sheriff's Lt. Andy Shedd, summed up his impression that day as he drove up: "It is bad."
Shedd said police, firefighters, medical personnel and county employees worked to deal with the several unstable and potentially dangerous factors. Pursley's injuries obviously were very serious, Shedd said, and she was stuck inside a vehicle that teetered dangerously on large rocks in the drainage ditch. Diesel fuel was leaking from the dump truck.
It took emergency workers nearly an hour to extricate Pursley from her vehicle. Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue Battalion Chief James Burnett said it was the longest extrication he has ever been a part of.
"This is not just a 15-minute extrication," Burnett recalled thinking as he assessed the scene. And most wreck victims in Pursley's situation don't live to come back and meet them, he said.
Pursley, of Appling, suffered a punctured lung and dozens of broken bones, including a crushed right ankle and wrist, a broken left arm, damage to the left side of her face and multiple fractured ribs.
After several surgeries and more than six months of difficult hospital and at-home recovery, Pursley made the rounds to meet and thank each of the people who helped save her life.
"They are my heroes,' Pursley said. "Those guys, when I got the chance to meet them, they have a type of dedication and loyalty for what they do, a compassion that not everybody can do. Not everybody can do what those guys do. They don't get enough credit."
In addition to visiting frequently and bringing the emergency responders food, Pursley is collecting funds to purchase three air bag systems for Martinez-Columbia emergency vehicles. Each set includes hydraulic jacks and air bags to stabilize vehicles for the safety of the emergency responders and the people being extricated. The equipment also can be used to move or hold up other large objects such as trees.
"Me and (husband) Stewart, just feel like they are our family," said Pursley, who was a construction safety officer at Kimberly-Clark before the wreck. "We want them to be protected. We want them to have this equipment because not only is it good for the (victim) not to be jarred by a winch line pulling a vehicle up, but it'll support the vehicle so these guys can get in there quicker without hurting them."
To extricate Pursley, firefighters used blocks of wood and a cable attached to a rescue truck to stabilize and lift the vehicle so she could be cut out. Firefighter Jeremy Kendrick, who spent much of the rescue inside the vehicle caring for Pursley, said precise cuts to the vehicle were necessary to remove Pursley without compounding her injuries.
Pursley said her trauma doctors told her if she'd been jarred during the extrication, she'd have likely lost her leg and probably been paralyzed because of a back injury close to her spinal cord.
Pursley said each air bag system costs $11,625. But the equipment, she hopes, will give the next victim and the firefighters "an added edge."
"It would have made it a lot easier," Burnett said.
Equipment such as the air bag systems are not always included in budgets.
Pursley is encouraging others to help provide the equipment. Donations can be sent to Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue, P.O. Box 526, Appling, GA 30802.
For information, call (706) 541-0756, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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