DRAPER — Clint Smith calls Battalion Chief Bart Vawdrey "one of the best you’ll find in the business."
It's those 25 years of experience with the Draper Fire Department, Unified Fire Authority and Salt Lake County Fire Department — which has taught Vawdrey to constantly be aware of his surroundings — that may have saved his life Thursday night, said Smith, who is Draper's fire chief.
Vawdrey was one of the first emergency responders to arrive at a crash on I-15 near 14600 South about 8 p.m. He had just gotten out of his vehicle to assess the situation when another vehicle started sliding toward him.
"Just out of the corner of his eye, split second, he was able to see a vehicle that had lost control and was headed in his direction. And he had just enough time to attempt to jump and move out of the way of the vehicle. So it helped to lessen the blow somewhat, but he was actually struck, from my understanding, by the rear of the vehicle.
"That vehicle had spun out of control and was now coming in backward. He was struck by the rear of that vehicle and thrown an estimated 25 to 30 feet,” Smith said.
When he landed, Vawdrey tried to get up and get out of traffic, but discovered he couldn't put any weight on his left leg, according to Smith. But Vawdrey still had the awareness to crawl to the nearby jersey barrier where he then used the emergency radio strapped to his uniform to tell dispatchers he had been hit and needed help.
"He’s one of the toughest people you’ll find, as evidenced by this situation last night,” Smith said.
Originally, the Utah Highway Patrol had reported that Vawdrey was pinned between two vehicles.
If not for that slight jump he took right before being hit, Smith said the outcome may have been much worse.
"I believe it played a significant role in helping him to avoid what could have been some very, very serious injuries or possibly worse,” he said.
Vawdrey was flown by medical helicopter to Intermountain Medical Center in critical condition. But Friday morning, Smith issued a statement saying Vawdrey, who did not suffer any broken bones, was expected to make a full recovery.
"In my mind, it’s a miracle that he’s in as good of condition as he’s in,” Smith said.
The chief said he visited with Vawdrey and his wife at the hospital Friday. He said his battalion chief was in good spirits but was anxious to go home so he could rest in his own house.
Doctors were expected to run a few more tests to look for internal injuries, but Smith was "very hopeful" Vawdrey would be released from the hospital on Friday.
The chief also repeated a caution to motorists that UHP troopers have been saying for the past two days: Slow down during adverse weather conditions and pay attention.4 comments on this story
"Firefighters and law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day for the protection of others. We plead with everyone to please slow down, eliminate distractions, and focus on their surroundings when traveling in adverse weather conditions," Smith said.
"It is a miracle that we are able to talk about awareness today and not what the outcome could have been."
Smith said I-15 near Point of the Mountain can be very dangerous in the winter, both for motorists and then for emergency responders who are called to crashes and broken down vehicles. The visibility in the area is tough, he said.
He pleaded with all motorists to not only slow down, but move over and give firefighters and police officers plenty of room to work.