Team effort involving a citizen, Canandaigua police and fire, and state trooper saves life

CANANDAIGUA — So many things had to go right in order for circumstances at a fiery crash scene in Canandaigua on Saturday night to not go tragically wrong.

A driver who ended up stopped at a signal light and saw the car leave the road and travel down a ravine, out of sight to the rest of moving traffic.

A Canandaigua police officer and state trooper, both of whom happened to be nearby when the emergency call was dispatched.

And an off-duty Canandaigua firefighter who happened to be driving by while on his way to pick up his daughter.

Citizen Dwight Simmons, Canandaigua police officer Anthony Catalfamo, trooper Christopher Braun and Canandaigua firefighter Ben Cramer all responded to the crash early Saturday night and helped pull the driver from the burning car and up a ravine to safety.

Canandaigua Police Chief Stephen Hedworth said he can’t say enough about their actions.

“Saturday changed because of the decisions that were made by Mr. Simmons, trooper Braun, officer Catalfamo and firefighter Cramer,” Hedworth said at a press conference Tuesday. “I can’t emphasize the risk to responders.”

Authorities are still investigating the crash, which happened shortly before 5:30 p.m. Saturday on Western Boulevard.

Simmons, who was unable to attend the press conference, saw the car leave the road at a spot where if he hadn’t been there to see it, no one would have, Catalfamo said.

Simmons left his vehicle and was able to notify authorities before traveling down the ravine to help pull the driver out and, with the other first responders, up the ravine to safety.

“It’s a tremendous job what the civilian did to help us out,” Catalfamo said. “Without him, it would have been a different story.”

Here’s how dicey the situation was.

Braun said the fire was right underneath his feet and the front was on fire at the time he and Simmons tried to pull the victim from the car. There was so much smoke that when he first opened the car, Braun said he couldn’t even see the driver.

“When I was finally able to see him in the car, I poked my head in a little bit and he reached his arm out, and I grabbed his arm,” Braun said. “The best hope for that individual is to remove him as fast as you can from that situation. The adrenaline is pumping and everybody is excitable, but everybody came together.”

Meanwhile, the situation was becoming exceedingly dangerous.

Cramer was able to don his firefighting gear and so was better protected from the flames. The others were not, said Cramer, praising the “great team job” that led to a successful outcome.

“This one got pretty severe pretty quickly,” Cramer said. “We had difficulty extinguishing the fire with the amount of gasoline there was. It was quite a challenge to get that fire out. Had the victim been in the car, it would have been a different outcome.”

The driver was flown Saturday to Strong Memorial Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries, Hedworth said. He said he was not able to provide an update on his condition or on whether the driver is still in the hospital.

Hedworth said investigators believe the fuel line may have been damaged going down the ravine.

“We’re still investigating to get definitive answers about how that car got down there,” Hedworth said.

State Police Maj. Eric Laughton said you don’t see this happen all the time, but said this was one team on one mission to serve the citizens of New York and did a “fantastic job.”

“This is what we do,” Laughton said.

Catalfamo credited the training each of the responders go through, and working together.

“You really don’t think,” Catalfamo said. “You act.”