TORONTO, Ont. - If it hadn't been for what he calls a "weird" set of circumstances that Sunday last July, Martin Baumber might have been just another trucker finishing a run and heading for home inste...
EMOTIONAL: Martin Baumber reflects on receiving the 2002 Canadian Truck Hero Award.Photo by Dean Askin
TORONTO, Ont. – If it hadn’t been for what he calls a “weird” set of circumstances that Sunday last July, Martin Baumber might have been just another trucker finishing a run and heading for home instead of a national hero in the trucking industry.
“It wasn’t a normal day to begin with,” he laughs despite the anguish of recalling that fateful day. “I was working on a Sunday.”
“I was passing through Cambridge and said, ‘Well, I’ll stop for lunch here.’ A woman at Wendy’s chatted with me longer than I’d cared to. But if she hadn’t, I’d have been ahead of that accident and I wouldn’t have been there. So things took place that day…it was weird.”
It’s hard for him to talk about. You can see the anguish in his blue eyes as he recalls the devastation at the Oxford Rd. exit on Highway 401 near Woodstock that afternoon of July 21.
The speeding car had sideswiped a transport truck, then crashed into another truck and caught fire, with five people trapped inside.
Baumber got his truck as close as he could to the accident, then ran to the burning car with fire extinguisher in hand.
When the extinguisher was discharged with little impact on the flames, Baumber climbed on the trunk of the burning car, acting fast on sheer instinct.
“I knew something had to be done. Nobody else was doing anything. I started pulling on an arm. The car looked like it was going to explode,” he recalls.
Baumber and one other man managed to pull Cunha and Pedro from the flaming wreck before the vehicle became completely engulfed.
“I’m no hero. Just an everyday person doing my job. I hope someone would do the same for me if I was in that situation. A hero, no I don’t think so,” he says when asked if he considers himself to be what everybody else thinks he is.
Baumber’s quick thinking and actions made headlines across the country – and a lasting impression on the man who would eventually present the driver for Vickerd Bros. Ltd. with the Bridgestone/Firestone Canadian Truck Hero Award for 2002.
“I remember picking up the paper and seeing Martin on his knees distraught because he couldn’t do more. It was an image that stayed with me,” says John Lindo, public relations manager for Bridgestone/Firestone.
When it came time to selecting the winner of the 2002 award, the answer was clear.
“We’d received a lot of nominations this year, but many were for Martin. And not just from Vickerd Brothers, or from industry insiders, but people who’d read the paper, had heard about him, and clipped the paper and sent it to us and said ‘this man should win,'” Lindo says.
Like the everyday Canadians who read news accounts of Baumber’s heroism last July, a panel of judges from the Canadian Safety Council, the Ontario Trucking Association and the Ottawa Chiefs of Police, unanimously agreed as well.
Aurora Cunha, the woman whose life Baumber saved, met him for the first time at the Ontario Trucking Association’s (OTA) convention when the 2002 Canadian Truck Hero Award was presented to Baumber last Nov. 14. It was a tearful, emotional meeting for everyone.
Speaking through an interpreter, Cunha told Truck News that she sees truck drivers in a new light. “I used to be a bit fearful of them on the road all the time. Now I have a very different view of them.”
All she remembers of the crash is seeing Baumber’s hand reach in to pull her out of the burning car and feeling grateful. “Certainly, he’s a hero,” Cunha said.
“Two people are alive today because of Martin Baumber’s efforts,” says Lindo, describing Baumber as “the perfect example of what being a true hero is.”
Colleagues have shaken his hand but still treat him the same, and Baumber is sure that his father, were he alive, would just give him a proud pat on the back and treat him the same as always.
For Baumber, life behind the wheel – following in his father’s footsteps – goes on albeit not the same as before. “To this day every time I pass over that spot it kills me,” he says.
He hasn’t let the emotional turmoil of seeing what he saw, doing what he did and being called a hero for it change the way he is. “You have it inside you. It doesn’t change you,” he says.
Baumber’s experience is not one that he wants to repeat. On the other hand, he has doing the right thing instilled in him, along with a sense of caring. Just a few weeks before receiving the 2002 Canadian Truck Hero Award, he came upon another accident, this time on Highway 403 – a horse trailer had flipped over. Once again, Baumber stopped to provide assistance because it was the right thing to do.
“I stopped my truck in front of the accident so nobody could make a bigger accident out of it. You have to care,” he says.