NORTHFIELD VILLAGE — "I got home, I started shaking pretty good. I looked down at my shirt because I had blood on the front of my shirt."
That was how Trotter Lane resident Paul Miroewski described his feelings after he and some other people rescued a man from the man’s work truck following a crash between the truck and a semi-truck in Warrensville Heights last April, shortly before both vehicles exploded.
Miroeski, 59, said the blood came from the man’s arms, which were cut after the truck’s windshield shattered.
"After it all happened and you get a chance to sit there and evaluate it all, you’re thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, what happened just now?’" said Miroewski.
For what happened, Miroewski is to be honored. The Summit, Portage and Medina counties chapter of the American Red Cross announced Feb. 6 that Miroewski will be one of eight people who it will present its annual Acts of Courage award to at the Hilton Akron/Fairlawn on March 7.
Miroewski works as a maintenance man for a condominium association in Lyndhurst. He lives with his wife of 27 years, Mikey, and they have a 21-year-old son named Liam. He is also a veteran, having served four years as a munitions systems specialist in the Air Force.
"The munitions, bombs, I worked with are a lot more stable than that scene that day," he said.
According to a Warrensville Heights crash report, the accident occurred at a little before 5 p.m. April 30 when the semi, which was southbound in Interstate 271’s right express lane, struck the rear of the work truck, driven by a 22-year-old Medina County man, while it was either slowing or stopped in traffic. The work truck was pushed into the rear of a second semi before flipping onto its side. The second semi in turn struck the rear of a car.
Miroewski said he had just left work and was driving in the left local lane, just across a grassy strip from the express lanes.
"I heard brakes screeching and I looked over to my left," he said. "I watched a semi plow into the back of a utility truck. And as soon as I saw that, I saw some flames dripping out of the semi."
He pulled over onto a shoulder, went over and talked to the semi driver. He seemed OK so he then went to the Medina County man’s truck, where he was joined by another motorist, an off-duty firefighter. The windshield was shattered and there was a stream of fire in the road and grass.
"The fireman said, ‘We’ve got to get him out of there,’" said Miroewski, and then proceeded to pull back what was left of the windshield.
"The fireman grabbed him by the left arm, I grabbed him by the right," said Miroewski. "As we tried to pull him over the dashboard, his legs were stuck. The fireman had long arms. He reached in, pried his legs free. Soon as we dragged him over the top of the dashboard of the truck, some other people ran up, grabbed him by the legs and we ran away from the scene. I can’t remember how long, it seemed like it was less than two minutes, and there was an explosion. We could feel the heat so we moved him again."
Miroewski said he was puzzled as to what caused the explosion because diesel fuel, unlike gasoline, does not explode but burns like kerosene. It was only later that he learned exactly how much danger he was in when he discovered that the Medina County man’s truck was carrying oxyacetylene welding tanks.
"That’s like shrapnel. It feels like bombs going off," he said.
"I’m not a hero," he added later. "I just happened to be there, that’s all, that’s all. And I knew that seeing this happen, I needed to do something and that’s what I did."
According to the crash report, EMS took the Medina County man to Hillcrest Hospital. Miroewski, who has kept in touch with him, said he’s doing well. The semi driver, who was cited with assured clear distance ahead, and the second semi driver, were taken to Hillcrest with possible injuries. No injuries were reported to the car’s driver.
Miroewski said he has experienced some emotional aftereffects of the crash.
"I had some bad dreams over it," he said. "I got up one Sunday, it was probably three o’clock in the morning, couldn’t sleep. So I went downstairs, sat on a couch and I could actually smell the diesel fuel."
Miroewski said it was a frightening experience and even while he was helping to save the man, he was having a fearful conversation in his head.
"I was thinking, ‘God, don’t let it happen today,’" he said. "We were standing in front of that truck trying to get him out. I didn’t know what was going to happen. There was so much uncertainty. I was just asking God to keep us safe and he obviously did."
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at 330-541-9431, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP.