LEWISTON, Maine — Andrew Whitney decided to take the plunge — jumping into North Pond in Greenwood last summer to save an 84-year-old woman in a sinking car — in less time than it takes to decide between Coke and Pepsi.
He was already kicking off his shoes as he radioed for help.
“I don’t know,” the 21-year-old Husson University student said of his actions that day after earning an award for heroism. “Why not?”
He sounded like many who received awards Tuesday at the annual American Red Cross Real Heroes Breakfast, run by the Red Cross’ United Valley office in Lewiston. Honorees said they helped because they were in the right place at the right time.
The winners included Chris Colby and Josh Burgess, a pair of Gardiner-area guys who saved a woman from battering surf at Popham Beach; Suzie, a Vassalboro dog who saved a boy, Ryan Pleau, from a house fire; Troy Pierce and Russell Toye of Augusta, who saved two men from a burning building; and the Haiti Work Retreat Group, a Lewiston-area organization supported by local hospitals that has been helping people in Haiti since before the devastating earthquake there in 2010.
Since 1998, more than 116 people from St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center have gone to Haiti on work-immersion trips, according to the American Red Cross. They’ve taken with them supplies from St. Mary’s and Central Maine Medical Center.
“These people remind us of how far people may go to help someone else,” Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert said of the winners. He complimented them on their “courage, kindness and unselfish behavior.”
For the winners’ sakes, there were no acceptance speeches. None was needed, they said.
Joe Bernard of Oxford, who was honored with the Blood Services Recognition Award, has been organizing at least two blood drives each year since the mid-1990s.
“His efforts save approximately 588 lives a year with the help of volunteer blood donors,” said Peter Morrison, the local Red Cross’ donor recruitment manager.
Bernard has never turned down a plea for a drive. And he has been donating since his days as a U.S. Marine in 1963.
“Joe is a 5-gallon donor, so far,” Morrison said.
When the Tuesday event was over, the winners stayed for a few minutes of photos and left quietly.
Whitney, who also works as a volunteer firefighter in Bethel, held his award and seemed to marvel that he earned the fuss.
When he came upon the accident last summer, a couple of drivers had already pulled over. He jumped out and someone said there appeared to be a woman in the submerged car.
He felt an obligation to help, he said. He radioed for assistance.
When his shoes were off, he dived in and swam to the car. The elderly woman heard his heavy breathing and asked, ‘Are you all right?’”
“She was very calm,” Whitney said.
She had rolled down her window and let him swim her to safety. The whole episode took only a minute.
When rescue workers arrived, the woman was safely ashore.