David Call was upside down in the back passenger seat of a crashed Jeep Grand Cherokee when it finally came to rest on its roof.

His brother, Ronald, was stuck in the front passenger seat. Their friend, Robert Hack, who was driving, was suspended by his seat belt in the driver’s seat.

None of them knew then that the underside of the vehicle had caught fire, or that in about a minute’s time it would be engulfed in flames.

“By the time we would have known it was on fire, it could have been too late by then,” David Call said Monday, recalling the harrowing crash on Sept. 10, 2013, on Broad Street in Auburn.

Call credits one man with saving their lives, a complete stranger whom he has never seen since.

Auburn resident Pawel Kruszewski, 30, is now being honored for “extraordinary civilian heroism” by the Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Heroes Fund Commission, which is awarding him a medal, a $5,000 grant and a possible scholarship and tuition assistance if he wishes to further his education.

Kruszewski was driving his own vehicle that evening when he came upon the crash on the rural road, stopped and rushed to the burning vehicle to help the trapped men get out.

In a telephone interview Monday night, Kruszewski said he was on his way home from work when he came across the wreck. He started talking to the occupants, asking them if they were OK, and if they could get out of the vehicle. Kruszewski said that when he got there, the vehicle was not on fire.

But after a while, the fire erupted and started to spread.

“I couldn’t see the fire,” David Call said. “He’s the one who said that (the car) was on fire.”

Kruszewski got to Call first, extended his upper body into the vehicle, and pulled him out.

Kruszewski then climbed inside the burning vehicle himself, grabbed Ronald Call by the arm and helped him from the front seat into the back seat area so he, too, could climb out.

“You don’t really think about what you are doing. I just acted,” said Kruszewksi, who is the assistant plant manager for Oldcastle Lawn and Garden in Poland Spring.

“Despite flames spreading on the vehicle’s underside, Kruszewski entered a third time to find Hack inverted in the driver’s seat, secured by his safety belt and wreckage,” the Carnegie Heroes Fund Commission said in a written statement on Monday announcing the award.

Kruszewski was one of 19 people nationwide to be honored with medals and cash in the Carnegie Heroes Fund Commission’s quarterly award. The commission gave out a total of 84 such awards this year to people like Kruszewski, who met four criteria of civilian heroism: the victim’s life was in immediate danger, he risked his own life, what happened could be verified, and he had no professional obligation to act, according to Carnegie Commission President Walter Rutkowski.

“It’s Carnegie’s way of saying ‘thank you’ to those who reached out to others,” Rutkowski said by phone Monday.

One of the other awardees Monday, Samuel Irick, 24, of Houston, was killed when he intervened to rescue a woman during an armed purse-snatching outside a convenience store on Nov. 11, 2010. Irick’s family will receive the award in his name.

The other winners in the latest round are from Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin.

The Carnegie Hero awards are named for Pittsburgh steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who was inspired by stories of heroism during a coal mine disaster that killed 181 people, including a miner and an engineer who died trying to rescue others.

The commission investigates stories of heroism and awards medals and cash grants several times a year. It has given away nearly $37 million to 9,737 awardees or their families since its inception in 1904.

David Call said Kruszewski definitely meets the criteria of a hero.

“If I could see him now, I would definitely thank him. It was very brave of him,” Call said by phone from his Lisbon home.

David Call, 40; Ronald Call, 48; and Hack, 43, all live in Lisbon.

The other award winners are:

Frederick J. Levesque Jr., 52, of Stafford Springs, Connecticut, who rescued a 7-year-old girl from a burning apartment in Somers, Connecticut, in December 2013.

 Brett Allen Thoele, 36, of Shorewood, Illinois, who helped save a man from drowning in Branson, Missouri, in June 2013.

 Donald Schaus Sr., 52, of Katonah, New York, who saved an 82-year-old man from a burning apartment in Bedford Hills, New York, in February.

 Bernard Kozen, 56, of Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, who saved others by subduing a gunman who killed three people at a municipal meeting in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, in August 2013.

 Richard Blessen, 45, of Crete, Nebraska, who saved two 14-year-old boys from drowning after they fell through ice in Duncan, Nebraska, in December 2013.

 Gregory D. Plancich, 58, and Daniel C. Hardwick, 53, both of Vashon, Washington; Jim O. Fultz, 48, of Siletz, Oregon; and Wayne Kitt, 35, of Loon Lake, Washington, who all helped save five members of another commercial fishing boat from drowning when it capsized near Kodiak Island, Alaska, in January 2012.

 Clifford Faraci, 43, of Desert Hills, Arizona, who was burned trying to save a woman from a wrecked car in Phoenix, Arizona, in March 2013.

 Donald E. Thompson, 54, of West Hills, California, who rescued a 72-year-old man from a crashed, burning car in Los Angeles in December 2013.

 Paul W. Mongiello, 57, of Overland Park, Kansas, who rescued two workers from a natural gas explosion at a Kansas City, Missouri, restaurant in February 2013.

 Jonathan A. Barthel, 21, of Lake Norden, South Dakota, who helped save a man and his 9-year-old son from drowning after their canoe capsized in April.

 James M. Kocker, 53, of Poulsbo, Washington, who helped save a man from drowning after his car crashed into a pond in Ellensburg, Washington, in October 2012.

 Ronnie Lee Moore Jr., 42, of Hortense, Georgia, and John Shannon Gibson, 45, of Woodbine, Georgia, who rescued a woman from a burning car that crashed in Waverly, Georgia, in October 2013.

 Jeffrey A. Johnson, 48, of North Freedom, Wisconsin, who helped save a man from drowning while ice fishing in Briggsville, Wisconsin, in April.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

 

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.