Everyday Heroes: Officer saves man overcome by methane gas - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

Everyday Heroes: Officer saves man overcome by methane gas

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(09/17/12) -  Every year, the Genesee-Lapeer chapter of the American Red Cross honors our friends, family and community members who stepped up when they were needed.

The 'Salute to Everyday Heroes' will be honored at an event this Thursday.

One of those heroes is Officer Gary Conklin. He had to make the difficult decision to risk his own life, to save another.

You've likely seen him around Linden, in Genesee County.

"This is my hometown community, I grew up here," Conklin said.

Many days and nights on the job pass quietly. But it's not quiet every night.

In August 2011, Officer Conklin heard an emergency in neighboring Fenton Township. "Dispatch had put out a call of two people, falling down in a sewer, possible face down."

The men were more than 20 feet below the ground, in a manhole, at Prices Airport.

Conklin knew he was closer than anyone else. "I knew that it was time of essence before they either A.) drown, or B.) asphyxiated themselves."

Conklin isn't just a police officer, he's also a construction worker. He knew the men had been overcome by something, possibly methane.

"He waited approximately five minutes, and he's like 'these guys are going to drown basically,' and he had to do something," said Police Chief Scott Sutter.

"I couldn't stand over those guys and watch them die. I just couldn't do it," Conklin said.

Conklin's emergency mask was not designed for this type of rescue. He put it on anyway. "If they start flailing, you know to prevent the sewage from going in my eyes. I knew it had a filter on it, might buy me 30 seconds of time."

A Genesee County park ranger had arrived to help. He had a rope, and Conklin had the determination. "So I looked up to God and said, 'you know what, may be coming home'. But a told him I needed the strength, and a, I made the decision to go in."

Conklin, who is also a scuba diver, knows his limits when it comes to breathing. He told the park ranger to pull on the rope, no matter what, after 2.5 minutes.

"Probably about four inches below and I could feel the heaviness of the air, and the methane. And I'm, claustrophobic," Conklin explained.

But he kept going. "My main goal that I had to stay focused on was getting down there. Roll them over so their faces are out of the watery-substance."

A second man, a Schwan's driver with a military background, also made the decision to come down to help. "Flipped the one guy back over, tried CPR to try and get him breathing again," said Paul Burt.

"I managed to get one of the subjects placed, propped up against the wall. And I knew at that time that my clock was running out," Conklin said.

Despite getting his rope caught on the steps, Conklin made it out safely. He was feeling the effects of the methane, but that didn't stop him from doing more. "I ordered the operator to bring the excavator up, so that we could use it as a crane."

Firefighters used that excavator to hoist the men out of the manhole. The 30-year-old man who fell in the hole first after being overcome by methane gas, would live. The 46-year-old man who went in after him, did not survive.

Police Chief Scott Sutter knows the 30-year-old owes his life to Officer Conklin. "He followed the oath that he swore to do, protect and serve, the ethics and integrity of what a police officer is all about, and he took it very seriously that day, and every day."

"You do the best you can every day you come in, and hope that at the end of the day, you go home," Conklin said.

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