Cody Bryant felt a little out of place when the Tennessee General Assembly honored him and fellow Kingsport, Tenn., Local 934 members Rick Courtner and Mollie Ingle in February.
Courtner and Bryant in the bucket as they get ready to rescue a woman trapped in her truck on Feb. 6. Photo by Mountain Electric Cooperative.
“We stuck out like a sore thumb down there," said Bryant, a lineman for Mountain Electric Cooperative. "We were told business casual. Nashville is a little different than Mountain City's business casual."
Mountain City, home to both Bryant and Courtner, is a small, rural community tucked neatly in the state's northeastern corner near its borders with Virginia and North Carolina. It's more than a four-hour drive from the neon lights and business suits of the state capital.
As it turned out, fashion didn't matter in the end; the trio were the stars of the show as members of the Legislature turned out to honor their heroism. Weeks earlier, with help from three other Local 934 members, Bryant, 31, and line foreman Courtner, 52, pulled a woman from her Ford F-150 pickup truck moments before she would have been swept up in flash flood waters.
Other Local 934 members involved in the rescue were Ingle, a meterperson, along with lineman Charlie Grindstaff and apprentice lineman Dakota Tester.
"It was a team effort," Courtner said. "Everyone was doing a job they had been trained to do. It saved a lot of time."
Ingle was working on a meter after heavy rain pounded northeast Tennessee the afternoon of Feb. 6. A resident in the area where she was working approached and told her about a woman trapped in her vehicle in some roaring creek waters along State Road 91.
Her calls to 911 kept dropping, so Ingle called her husband, an off-duty police officer, and he called 911. Ingle then reached Courtner and Bryant via cell phone and told them to bring their bucket — which usually means it's a rescue situation.
Courtner got to the area first, analyzed the scene and called Bryant and "told him to step on it," he said.
"It was a dire situation," Courtner said. "Cody later told me from the point she ran off, she had been pushed about 450 yards down the creek. She had gotten hung up on a rock. The emergency personnel on the scene did not have any swift water rescue stuff and were unable to reach her."
Getting caught on that rock turned out to be a blessing. Without it, the driver might have been swept up over a bridge about 100 yards away, Bryant said.
"Mollie had called and told me to go around the traffic," Bryant said. "When we got down there, there was a yard between some houses and trees. Rick was motioning me to turn back into the yard where it sloped into the creek."
By that time, Grindstaff and Tester had also arrived. They helped set up the truck so Courtner and Bryant could get in the bucket and out over the water. Their first attempt came about 10 feet short of the truck, so they had to return to the yard and back the truck closer to the water.
On the second attempt, they reached the woman's vehicle.
"She was actually very calm considering the situation," Courtner said. "She remained calm. I started talking to her as soon as we got close enough. We got her to come through the window and we helped her over the door. I looked over at Cody and just said, 'Pull,' and we pulled her into the bucket."
Bryant estimated the rescue took about 10 minutes. The woman was identified as Cathy Souder of Laurel, Tenn. According to reports, the vehicle Souder was driving was struck by a falling tree, sending it over a guardrail and into the flooded creek that ran besides the roadway.
"Just God bless to everyone," she told the The Tomahawk, a weekly newspaper in Mountain City. "But my heroes are Rick Courtner and Cody Bryant and their bucket for saving me. Our small community was there and I'll always be grateful."
News spread about the rescue after Mountain Electric posted pictures of it on its Facebook page, bringing a spate of media coverage in eastern Tennessee and recognition from the Legislature. Courtner and Bryant appreciated it, but both say it really wasn't necessary.
"We didn't feel like it was anything heroic," Courtner said. "It was just something that needed to be done and we were in a position to do it. Every other lineman would have done the same thing if they had been on the scene."
That humility didn't come as a surprise to Local 934 Business Manager Roger Farmer, who said the work by all five IBEW members was exemplary.
"We've got a really good group of folks that work there," he said. "They just consider this another day in the park, even though they saved a life. They don't consider themselves heroes by any means."
But plenty of other people certainly do. "It was a very serious situation and emergency personnel had limited options due to the raging waters," said Joseph Thacker, Mountain Electric Cooperative's general manager. "Our line workers put themselves at risk every day to serve our communities. We are very proud of Rick, Cody, Dakota, Charlie and Mollie and their willingness to go above and beyond to help others in need. This is Mountain Electric at its best."