Nokomis fireman pulls Satsuma man from burning car
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
For the past couple of years, right around vacation time, disaster has come looking for Frisco Gehman. So far, the 29-year-old Nokomis Volunteer Fire Department lieutenant has been able to meet it head-on and fight it to a draw.
In 2022, Gehman saved a child from drowning while he and his wife, Charity, were on vacation. Last Wednesday, June 14, he pulled a wreck victim from a burning car less than two days before the couple, who are expecting their first child, were to head out of town for a few days of rest and relaxation.
Again, Frisco — the youngest of Jerry and Faith Gehman’s four sons and the third to become an emergency responder — was unexpectedly thrust into the face of a crisis. And again, his instincts and his training took over.
He and his father had been to Huntsville earlier that day, but an emergency repair job for a G&H Systems client had to be handled before they left. When the repair work was done, Frisco left his truck at the client’s location and rode with his father.
When they got back to Atmore, Frisco retrieved his truck and Jerry headed home in his, barely a half-minute ahead of his son. A violent storm system was at its peak at the time, and Frisco drove up on a strange sight when he crossed Interstate 65 and approached the Chevron store on Jack Springs Road.
“There was a Ram pickup stopped in the road, with no lights and no flashers,” he recalled. “There was a young lady in the vehicle by herself, and the airbags had not activated.”
He breathed a sigh of relief that the 2018 Dodge 1500 (driven by 34-year-old Felicia Nicole Cunningham of Castleberry), which had some damage to its front end, wasn’t damaged worse and that the driver was not injured.
He barely had time to reflect on that before the woman helped him realize that a greater problem existed about 25 to 30 feet below the roadway.
“I looked toward the ditch that’s almost under the overpass and saw smoke coming from there,” he said. “The other vehicle (a 2011 GMC Acadia driven by Willie Armstead Crook, 70, of Satsuma) had flipped several times.”
Frisco worked his way down the embankment to discover the GMC’s windows were broken and the truck was on fire. Both the truck’s doors were smashed in, and the passenger side had water in it from the ditch. The truck was on its side, and Crook was lying on the other window.
“He was moving around, but he seemed pretty much out of it,” the firefighter remembered.
The first responder tried to pull the injured man from the burning vehicle, but that effort was also initially unsuccessful.
“I finally coaxed him into the back so I could lift him out,” he continued. “I couldn’t pick him up, he was at such an awkward angle, and there was an oil fire in the engine compartment. I was starting to panic but I didn’t want to give up.”
Finally, an unidentified bystander left three children in his car and raced down the embankment to help.
“I was going to go get my fire extinguisher out of the truck when I heard a big sound,” Frisco said. “I looked, and the other guy — I think his name was Terrance — had filled his hardhat with water and thrown it on the fire.”
That, along with the rain, extinguished the flames.
Alabama State Troopers determined that Cunningham was coming off the northbound I-65 exit ramp (54) and did not yield to Crook, who was headed north on Jack Springs Road. Official reports show that “Unit 1 (the Dodge 1500) struck Unit 2 (the GMC) and Unit 2 did not contribute to the crash.”
Jerry Gehman, who is a captain with NVFD, praised his son’s actions, pointing out that the lessons learned by a firefighter-first responder (Frisco is a Certified Emergency Care Provider) remain ingrained in that person’s mind.
“He had no fire equipment, and he did the job without any help, or with hardly any help,” Jerry said. “His skills came into play. When you learn it, you can’t forget it.”
Frisco, who has been a fireman for “about 11 years,” shrugged off the “hero” label, saying simply that he was put where he needed to be, when he needed to be there, just like when the child was drowning last year.
“Rolin Construction’s printer was struck by lightning, and I went in early to fix that,” he explained. “If that had not happened, I wouldn’t have been there. God has perfect timing.”