Alexandria, Virginia

Professional truck driver Gary West of Riverview, New Brunswick, has been named a Highway Angel by the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA). He is being recognized for rescuing a fellow truck driver from burning cab.

West had just done an overnight at the Lounsberry Truck Stop off the Southern Tier Expressway in Nichols, New York after having blown a tire on his truck. He’d awoken around 4 a.m. and went into the convenience store to use the restroom. There was a line so someone told him about another restroom around the corner of the store and up the stairs. As he exited the store, something made him turn his head toward a row of trucks parked near the fuel pumps. He saw what appeared to be little balls of fire—no, flames—dripping down like liquid from underneath one of the trucks.

Acting quickly, West found himself running toward the truck, 100 feet away from him. A moment later, he was frantically yelling and beating on the passenger door of the truck as well as the driver’s side door of the truck parked next to it. The flames underneath the truck were quickly turning into a major fire. The driver in the neighboring truck awoke, saw what was happening, and quickly moved his truck out of the way. But West wasn’t getting a response from the driver inside the burning truck and the doors were locked. He could see smoke beginning to fill the cabin so he ran around to the driver’s side and banged on the door and tried to rock the cab, all while trying to get the attention of the driver in the next truck. Finally, the driver in the burning truck appeared from behind the curtain, looking dazed and disoriented. West yelled to him that his truck was on fire and to get out.

“Flames were now coming out from under the hood and lapping at the windshield,” recalled West. “Somehow we got the door open and I helped him down from the cab.” As nearby drivers heard and saw what was happening, they quickly moved their trucks away from the area. West managed to get the man to safety and waited for help to arrive. He suspects the fire was likely due to some sort of mechanical failure.

Unsurprisingly, the incident left a mark on West. He admits he had a hard time sleeping for a while and still gets emotional thinking about it. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how close it was for that man,” he said. “I didn’t realize that (in a fire) you wouldn’t necessarily wake up coughing.” Later, upon returning his truck to the shop in New Brunswick, he requested a smoke alarm be installed in his truck.

West says he has been in trucking all his life, and in 50 years, this was his first encounter of this kind. Knowing he was able to help and that no one was seriously hurt makes him feel good. “My wife and I have long believed that things happen for a reason,” he shared with TCA. “If I hadn’t happened to look at just the right moment to see those little balls of fire underneath that truck…” he doesn’t like to finish the sentence.

For his quick actions to rescue a fellow driver, TCA has presented West with a certificate, patch, lapel pin, and truck decals as well as informed his new employer, MCW Transport, Inc. of Moncton, New Brunswick, of his good deed.