Chris Stafford and Hunter Cunningham have a lot in common. They run toward danger and away from the spotlight. Stafford is a deputy with the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office while Cunningham recently completed his training to be an emergency medical technician and fireman. In July, the men, who did not know each other at the time, were off work and driving around when they decided to hightail it to the scene of a bad accident. What they found was a motorcyclist lying on the ground near a burning hay trailer. The rider had been thrown from his bike after colliding with the truck, igniting the fire. Stafford and Cunningham tended to the injured man and shielded him from the flames until the paramedics and fire department arrived. On Oct. 10, the deputy and EMT were honored for their bravery and heroism, which likely saved the motorcyclist’s life. But they don’t want any fuss. What else were they supposed to do?
Q: Talk about the accident.
Stafford: I saw a huge explosion down the road and knew it had to involve vehicles. When I finally got there, there was a trailer engulfed in flames and a man lying right beside the trailer. Hunter Cunningham asked me to hold the man’s neck and stabilize him, which I did. The fire started getting really hot and the smoke was really thick and I couldn’t breathe. Someone brought us a towel and I held it over the man’s face so the smoke wouldn’t get him. The wheels started exploding and it blew hot black rubber on us.
Cunningham: The man was badly hurt and we didn’t want to move him in case of a spinal injury. I told him who we were. A woman who had stopped had some blankets and we covered him up.
Q: Was this just another day at the office for you?
Stafford: It was out of the ordinary for me. I have been to a lot of bad wrecks but never one involving fire. I was terrified when those wheels started exploding and it was already so hot. I didn’t know how much gasoline was left in that motorcycle or what else was going to blow up. And I really didn’t think this fellow was going to make it.
Cunningham: I have worked wrecks before but this is the first time I have ever just come across an accident. With any accident, you try to remain calm and figure out what is going on and act from there. There was a lot to take in with this one.
Q: What drew you to your profession?
Stafford: I had been an electrical worker for a long time and then construction came to a halt in 2008. I had an opportunity to work in law enforcement and I gave it try. I have enjoyed helping people.
Cunningham: I always knew I wanted to go into something with public safety. I talked to some friends who worked with the fire department and who were EMTs. This has always been really exciting to me. And I guess there are times when you feel like you make a difference.
Q: What do you want people to know about what you do?
Stafford: I tell my wife, when most people meet me, they usually are having the worst day they have had in five to 10 years. Most officers are friendly and just want to help people. On TV, you always see shootings and bad things but a very small percentage of the job is about that.
Cunningham: There is definitely a strong brotherhood with the fire department, which is something you may not always get with other professions.
Q: You have been reluctant to do interviews. Why?
Stafford: Taking credit is not my thing. What I did was something everyone should have done.
Cunningham: I have never enjoyed being in the spotlight, especially with something like this. This is what first responders do and should do. It is not something to get credit for.
The Sunday Conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at email@example.com.