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Pittsburgh paramedic drives own truck to bridge collapse, helps load patients in the bed

City of Pittsburgh paramedic Jon Atkinson shared a harrowing account of Friday’s bridge collapse rescue, praising the crews that got on-scene first for their tremendous work.

Atkinson was in his own pickup truck on the way to help at the site of the bridge collapse, when he heard over the radio that first responders were having a hard time with the rocky, steep terrain.

PHOTOS: Crews lift PAT bus hundreds of feet in the air after Pittsburgh bridge collapse

He drove down into the ravine and got to work, loading a severely injured woman, stabilized in a basket, into the bed of his pickup truck. She and her husband were in their truck crossing the bridge when the concrete began to crumble.

“You have a massive natural gas leak, vehicles with flammable liquids, the possibility of an even greater catastrophe was very real,” Jon Atkinson tells Channel 11.  “They just needed to get her out of there.” Atkinson said while what he did was unorthodox and unusual, he had it easy compared to fellow paramedics who were first on-scene and risked their lives. “To go over that bridge in the condition it was in, it’s unstable, there’s a concern about a secondary collapse — those guys weren’t really at all concerned about it,” Atkinson said. “They grabbed their gear and did some really difficult work.” Atkinson added that all of this was happening while gas hissed as it rushed out of the broken main. “It was just spewing gas and it was so loud you couldn’t even hear. I couldn’t hear my radio until they got that gas off.”

Monday, massive cranes secured the Port Authority bus around its middle and lifted it from the ravine as families came to see the damage.

“It was a spectacular event,” Jim Abraham tells Channel 11.  “You could live an entire life and not see a PAT bus floating over Frick Park.”

“I drive over this bridge all the time, as does everyone else, and it makes you wonder about all the other bridges,” David Kohanbash added.

Neighbors and total strangers reflected on what a different ending to the story this could have been, and praised first responders for a job well done.

“Whether it’s the middle of the river or down in some ravine after a bridge collapse, or someone pinned in a car — that’s what we do and we’ll do it every time,” Atkinson added. “When you need us, we’ll be there.”

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