Better work stories - saving lives all in a day's work

 Tanker Operator Stephen Curtis collects our farmers’ milk anywhere from Ashburton all the way up to Kaikoura and Murchison, so he knows the roads of the region well. Recently, his usual route brought him face-to-face with a near fatal accident. 

“It was happening right in front of me, I saw a car being hit by a house-bus which sent it catapulting across the road.”

The car had failed to give way and was T-boned – a terrifying incident that could have cost a life. Stephen immediately understood the severity of the situation and was quick to act at the scene.

“There was smoke coming out of the back of the car and I couldn’t see how many people were trapped inside.

“I quickly grabbed hold of my fire extinguisher and extinguished the fire, it was then that I realised the entire side of the car was smashed in and a woman was trapped inside.

“There was no way I could get her out without help, it was completely damaged beyond anything I have ever seen. If nobody was there it could have gone really bad for her in a matter of seconds, time was of the essence in this situation.”

Realising that someone was trapped, Stephen quickly reached into the car, turned it off and asked our Planning and Despatch team to call emergency services.

“She must have become unconscious with her foot on the accelerator because the car was revving as fast as it could go, the wheels were spinning and the rubber had come off.

“The air bags in the car were covered in blood. Seeing this woman so helpless and alone was something I had hoped I would never witness.”

When the ambulance arrived, the woman was still unresponsive. Paramedics and rescue fire crew took over immediately. They cut the roof off first, then the door and managed to get her out.

“I gave a statement to the police and moved on so they could take over. When I came back from collecting our farmers milk up the road the tow truck had just taken away the car, totalling three and a half hours of work clearing and tidying the scene.”

Reflecting on the day, Stephen says without the fire extinguisher the woman would have had no chance of survival.

“The key thing was having the fire extinguisher on hand and using it straight away rather than just sitting in the car and calling 111. The car was all damaged around the fuel tank so it could have easily exploded, there really was no time to waste.”

Stephen has been a Fonterra tanker driver for five seasons and in all this time, he has never experienced anything like this.

“You never know what’s going to happen when you are on the road every day, in all my years with Fonterra I’ve never been involved in an event like this.”

“I’ve seen cars catch on fire before and I had no doubt in my mind that if I didn’t act quickly the car would have turned into an inferno and a woman would have lost her life.”

Depot Manager Shane Taylor personally shared the news with his team at Darfield, recognising Stephen for his quick response.

“This would be a traumatic experience for anyone who comes across it, yet Stephen handled it calmly and professionally. It made me feel good as his manager that he stopped and helped out, because if he didn’t the outcome for that woman could have been much different.”

Stephen also wants to thank the team at our Darfield site for being incredibly supportive and for providing him with the tools to help.

“Our entire tanker fleet all carry an extinguisher and the training we had on how to use them was incredibly helpful.

“The team at Darfield and our tanker team have been really supportive of what I did. Everyone’s been giving me a pat on the shoulder, but to me it just feels like another day on the job.”

“With all the events that we can’t control such as the recent floods and earthquakes, it’s important that we share the stories where we can. You never know what’s around the corner in life.”