How do you thank the man who saved your child’s life?
That’s the question that Kelly Jo Smith of Greenfield is asking this week. She said she has yet to figure out how to repay Dennis Daly, a Warren County Department of Public Works employee, for pulling her 18-year-old daughter out of an overturned, burning car on Monday.
Daly was part of a DPW crew that was salting and sanding Call Street in Lake Luzerne on Monday when they came across the vehicle on its passenger side just off the pavement. Smoke was pouring from the car’s engine, and driver Chelsea Barton was unable to get out because her seat belt was stuck.
Daly ran to the burning car while his co-workers Jeff Fish, Joe Abrams and Jack Wells stopped traffic on the busy road.
Daly said he believed from training he received in the military that the vehicle was not in danger of exploding despite the smoke, so he knew he had time to attempt a rescue. But the driver’s side door was stuck and Barton couldn’t get the seat belt undone, so Daly entered the car through a back door.
Barton said she was able to give her seat belt buckle a “punch” and it opened, and Daly helped her out before he went back in to get her purse.
Barton estimated she hung upside down from the seat for five or six minutes, watching smoke grow from the engine compartment, before Daly rescued her.
The fire engulfed the vehicle minutes after she got out, destroying it.
“If I didn’t get out of the car when I did, I wouldn’t be here today,” she said.
Daly, a light equipment operator for the DPW, downplayed his actions, saying he couldn’t let someone stay in the burning car despite the danger to himself.
“I just remember thinking, ‘We’ve got to get her out of that car or she’s going to burn up,’” he said.
Barton was treated at Glens Falls Hospital for internal injuries and bruised ribs, and said Thursday she was sore but recovering.
Smith said Daly has called to check on her daughter a number of times since the accident.
Warren County Public Works Superintendent Jeff Tennyson said he plans to honor Daly for his actions at an upcoming Board of Supervisors meeting. He said Daly and the three co-workers with him all deserved credit.
“We’ve got a lot of quality people here,” Tennyson said.
Barton said she was on her way to class at SUNY Adirondack, but black ice caused her to lose control of her car in a curve. State Police ticketed her for failure to keep right and speed not reasonable for conditions.
Barton and her mother said they were most confounded that a number of people drove past her overturned vehicle as she sat in it, and others who stopped did nothing to help her despite the spreading fire.
“He was the only one who would help,” her mother, Smith, said. “This was our Christmas miracle. Without that man doing what he did, she wouldn’t be here.”