James Pocock didn’t think he was being a hero when he looked into the cab of Paul Bristol’s truck. But what he did next saved Bristol’s life on May 4 on I89 in Williston.
RYAN MERCER/FREE PRESS
From left, James Pocock and truck driver Paul Bristol embrace after a ceremony Wednesday, May 31, 2017, at the Williston Fire Department honoring Pocock for actions that the department says were crucial in saving Bristol’s life after he suffered a heart attack while driving down I89 on May 4.(Photo: RYAN MERCER/FREE PRESS)Buy Photo
WILLISTON – Around 1 in the afternoon May 4, truck driver Paul Bristol was headed south on Interstate 89 when he suffered a sudden, serious heart attack near Exit 12.
Bristol’s truck veered into the left lane, “bunny-hopping” along the guardrail for some 300 feet before coming to a stop about 10 feet before the end of the rail. Had the truck not stopped, the vehicle would have dropped into the ravine of the median and likely rolled.
James Pocock, a homeless man living in the woods near Exit 12 for the past couple months, witnessed the entire event. He remembers a cloud of concrete dust as the truck hit the guardrail, along with the cab dramatically hopping up and down as the truck ground to a halt. So Pocock sprang into action.
The Williston Fire Department honored Pocock’s life-saving efforts at an event Wednesday.
“James heard the commotion and ran up to help,” Fire Chief Ken Morton said, addressing Bristol. “He found you breathless and pulseless and began CPR.”
Left, James Pocock stands with Public Information Spokesman Prescott Nadeau of the Williston Fire Department to receive a medal for actions that the department says were crucial in saving truck driver Paul Bristol’s life after he suffered a heart attack while driving down I89 on May 4. (Photo: RYAN MERCER/FREE PRESS)
The fire department arrived on the scene about four minutes after receiving a 911 call at 1:25 p.m. Firefighters and EMTs took over for Pocock and others who were compressing Bristol’s chest while Pocock performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Bristol, 68, was transported to the University of Vermont Medical Center, where he received six stents in blocked arteries. He attended Wednesday’s award ceremony for Pocock, traveling from New Hampshire, where he lives with his family and fiancee Donna Dupont.
“He’s better than I’ve ever seen him,” Bristol’s son, Robert, said of his father. “He looks great.”
Pocock learned CPR as a Boy Scout and later had training from the American Red Cross, where he served as an instructor. He worked briefly as a firefighter and EMT in California but said that had been 20 years ago. He had not used his training or knowledge since.
“Everybody who doesn’t know CPR should, because whether it’s a family member, your neighbor or someone you don’t know, it may be 20 years from now, but when that time comes it makes a difference,” Pocock said.
Truck driver Paul Bristol watches with his daughter-in-law Nikki as James Pocock is presented with a medal for his actions the day that he found Bristol unconscious in the cab of his tractor trailer suffering a heart attack. (Photo: RYAN MERCER/FREE PRESS)
When Pocock first arrived on the scene of the crash, he was unable to see a driver in the truck. Climbing up the outside of the cab, he spotted Bristol wedged between the seats, “sucking for air.”
“That’s when I heard his last breath,” Pocock said.
Deprived of oxygen, Bristol was turning blue.
“From his lips more and more on his face, he was blue,” Pocock said. “That scared me.”
Pocock knew he needed help so he began stopping traffic. Somehow he had to get Bristol out of the cab, and now.
“That’s when these two country boys, 19 or 20, came out of nowhere,” he said. “They said, ‘What do you need?’ I said, ‘He needs to come out!’ They grabbed him and four seconds later he was out. I don’t know who they were, but they had a big part in saving his life.”
Notified by Bristol’s employer of his accident, Donna Dupont and Bristol’s family were racing toward UVM Medical Center from New Hampshire. After learning of Pocock’s role in saving Bristol’s life, the family visited Pocock in his camp and took him to the hospital to see the man he had helped save.
Pocock couldn’t shake the mental images of the experience.
“I remember looking down into his throat, hearing his last breath, that was all stuck in my mind,” he said. “I just kept reliving it, even though I knew he had pulled through.”
Truck driver Paul Bristol embraces Williston Firefighter EMT John Ouellette who, along with Firefighter EMT David Auriemma, rear, took over administering emergency care to Bristol after he suffered a heart attack while driving his tractor trailer down I89 on May 4. James Pocock was the first to find Paul slumped over in his cab and started live-saving actions that bought precious time and helped Paul survive. (Photo: RYAN MERCER/FREE PRESS)
Seeing Bristol in the hospital with his family, Pocock found relief.
“Once I met him all that reliving stopped, immediately replaced by hearing him laugh,” he said. “Now instead of focusing on his last breath I could replace it with someone smiling and giggling.”
Bristol’s family went to Walmart and bought Pocock a pillow and other supplies for his camp. Robert Bristol says his family and Pocock’s family are now part of each other’s lives.
“We’re all friends on Facebook now,” Bristol said. “We talk to him all the time.”
Prescott Nadeau, public information officer for the Williston Fire Department, said a plaque will be placed on the wall in the fire station to commemorate Pocock’s actions.
“One action at one moment in time has had a ripple effect on everybody in this room,” Nadeau said. “James, your actions were incredibly important. It will forever be remembered in this department and by the people in this community.”
Contact Dan D’Ambrosio at 660-1841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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