Off-duty Vail firefighter helps save truck driver |

Off-duty Vail firefighter helps save truck driver

Dustin Racioppi
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyVAil firefighter Mike Malec practices inserting an airway tube down a dummy's throat as part of his training Tuesday at the Bighorn Fire Station in East Vail, Colorado

VAIL, Colorado ” When Vail firefighter Mike Malec was driving home with his girlfriend Friday, he first thought the white cloud hovering near Interstate 70 in Avon, Colorado was smoke.

A closer look showed the off-duty firefighter something much worse.

A tractor trailer had just crashed into two sports utility vehicles, sending a plume of snow into the sky, triggering Malec, an East Vail firefighter, to take a second trip around the roundabout near Conoco, call 911 and then race to the scene to help.

Despite the grim tableau of the jackknifed truck cradling the smashed front end of a gray SUV, Malec said the people inside the car, as well as the passengers inside a black SUV on the opposite side of the trailer, were OK. Things weren’t so good when he made it to the cab of the semi-truck.

“He was purple with his tongue hanging out,” Malec, 24, said. “No pulse. No heartbeat.”

Malec was joined quickly by two men who stopped to help after seeing the wreckage. Together they dragged the unresponsive man, who Malec said had a medium build, out of the cab, laid him in the snow and Malec started giving him CPR. All this happened within two minutes of watching the crash unfold, Malec said.

Until Eagle River Fire Protection District showed up moments later, Malec kept the man alive by thrusting his palms into the man’s chest, while one of the volunteer bystanders kept the man’s jaw open to create an airway. The third volunteer was helping direct traffic in between checking the truck driver’s pulse.

Without those two helpers ” whose names Malec can’t remember, though Brad and Eric come to mind, he said ” the truck driver may have never gotten a pulse back.

“No one person can do all that work by themselves,” Malec said. “They did a great job. They really stepped up.”

Malec said from the initial moments after the crash up until the fire department and ambulance arrived to shock the man’s heart back to life, every move was near-perfectly executed and every second taken advantage of.

“Some accidents go smoother than others and this one was fairly smooth,” he said, which is surprising considering the crucial steps to keep the man alive were aided by two untrained, innocent bystanders. “These guys didn’t know what they were going to see or what they were getting into. It really was a team effort.”

The identity and condition of the truck driver are unknown, but Malec said the man was alive when he was transported from the scene to Vail Valley Medical Center.

Malec’s boss, Vail Chief of Fire and Emergency Services, Mark Miller, said he wasn’t shocked at what Malec had done. Even though Malec was just hired full-time in July, it’s what he’s trained to do, Miller said. But he’s still proud of Malec and nominated him for the American Heart Association’s Heart Saver Award, an award created to recognize people who save somebody in unusual circumstances having heart problems.

“To do it on your day off, it’s a pretty special deal to be at the right place at the right time, or the right place at the wrong time, and to have the training and expertise,” Miller said. “As chief, I’m very proud of any of our guys when they do something like that. He’s a quality guy.”

Of course, Malec remains modest despite saving a man’s life.

“I did, but it’s my job. It’s what’s expected of me. It’s what I expect of myself,” he said. “Whether I’m on duty or not, you might as well try. You can’t help if you don’t try.”

Malec would just like to know who it was that helped him and how the truck driver’s doing.

“We’re trying to figure that out,” he said Tuesday afternoon, making phone calls to the hospital. “Hopefully he’s doing well.”

Dustin Racioppi can be reached at 970-748-2936 or

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