As Broome County Sheriff David Harder drove to work, his thoughts were on budgets and consolation proposals, typical administrative duties that constantly flood any Sheriff's mind. But suddenly, Sheriff Harder was in a situation that took him back 48 years, when he was a deputy sheriff assigned to road patrol.
The car in front of him crashed through the guard rail and tumbled down a steep embankment. As the vehicle landed, it burst into flames. Sheriff Harder quickly notified the county's 911 center, grabbed his fire extinguisher and headed for the burning car. He was able to knock the fire down enough to determine that there were four people -a woman and three children- and a dog inside. The Sheriff called to a passing motorist who was standing at the top of the hill to come down and help.
"I handed him the fire extinguisher and told the good Samaritan that when the flames pop up, spray the extinguisher on them," recalled Sheriff Harder. "I took my gun belt off, hung it in a tree and climbed through the open back window of the car."
Sheriff Harder was able to get two of the kids and dog out. But another child was hanging upside down from her seat belt. She was badly injured and blood was everywhere. Sheriff's deputies, state troopers and the fire department quickly arrived. The firemen relieved the man that Sheriff Harder assigned to use his fire extinguisher. The threat of fire and the vehicle's explosion were neutralized by the firefighters.
Using the Jaws of Life, the two other victims were removed and quickly transported to a local hospital with serious injuries. Sheriff Harder emerged from the car, his uniform soiled and drenched in blood. A state trooper had spotted his gun belt and secured it in the trunk of his troop car.
The Sheriff climbed back up the steep bank. He touched base with the deputy sheriffs handling the crash investigation. He then dusted himself off, got in his car and drove home to change into a clean uniform, leaving his wife with some challenging laundry to clean.
He headed back to work, mindful of budget problems and consolidation issues. And, he made a mental note to replace the fire extinguisher in his car.