Humble hero

Andrew Wagstaff
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Pugwash man receives Medal of Bravery for car rescue

LINDEN – Colin Brownell does not know where he found the strength to lift up Calvin Latta’s car last year, but he is glad he did. His actions that day saved the Malagash man’s life.

“A buddy of mine calls it ‘stupid strength,’” said Brownell, who received a Medal of Bravery from Premier Darrell Dexter last week. “You don’t even know you have it until you need it.”

There is nothing stupid about what the Pugwash bus driver did in May of 2009, however, when he and his wife were on their way home from Amherst and came across an overturned car laying on its side near the edge of the road.

“I slowed down and there was a woman standing out by the road talking on a cell phone, so I assumed she was the person from the car,” said Brownell. “But when I drove by the car, I could see smoke, and someone’s hands pushed up against the windshield.”

Without any further thought, he stopped the car, told his wife to “call somebody” and got out to help. With the car on fire, he knew he had limited time to help the driver.

After trying unsuccessfully to peel out the broken windshield of the Honda Civic, Brownell stepped on the exhaust and climbed up to try and open the passenger side door, but it would not open. With flames now billowing out and over the occupant of the car, he did the only other thing he could think of. He got his arms under the driver side and lifted the car back onto its wheels, then dragged the driver out by his feet.

“By this time, fire was all up inside the dash, up by his head burning,” he recalled.

It was only then that he recognized Latta, who he had known for years.

“I asked him where his wife was, and he didn’t answer me,” said Brownell. “I looked inside and made sure she wasn’t in the car, then walked over towards him, and by that time the car was completely on fire. He didn’t have very long.”

Amazingly, Latta was unburned and unhurt from the crash. Brownell was also unharmed, other than a lot of soreness in his back and legs he felt in the days after lifting the car.

Despite the danger to himself, Brownell said he had only one thing on his mind at the time.

“Get him out,” he said. “I wasn’t going to leave him.”

Brownell was one of four Nova Scotians to be recognized for his bravery at a special ceremony in Halifax on Nov. 17. He travelled there with his wife Ruth and son Justin.

“That was quite a thing,” he said about the honour. “I’m a quiet guy. I like to stay out of the limelight, back out of the way, but it did feel good.”

Latta was one of the people who nominated him.

“Today’s recipients are heroes in the eyes of their families, their friends, and all Nova Scotians,” said the premier. “When someone was in need, these brave Nova Scotians didn’t hesitate to risk their own lives to save someone else’s. Such a selfless act deserves our recognition and respect, which is why I am pleased to award this prestigious honour.”

This is the third year for Nova Scotia’s Medal of Bravery.

Recipients were selected by an advisory panel chaired by Constance Glube, former Chief Justice of Nova Scotia. The committee also includes the deputy minister of Justice, the provincial fire marshal, president of the Nova Scotia Chiefs of Police Association, the director of operations from the Emergency Management Office, the commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic, former Member of the Legislative Assembly Wayne Adams, and member-at-large John Cody.

Organizations: Honda Civic, Nova Scotia Chiefs, Police Association Emergency Management Office Legislative Assembly Wayne Adams

Geographic location: Amherst, Halifax, Nova Scotia

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