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Injured firefighters honor fallen leader who saved their lives: ‘He warned us’

Posted at 1:36 PM, May 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-15 13:07:46-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- As Tropical Storm Michael churned toward Richmond on October 11, 2018, the Hanover Firefighters at Station 6 enjoyed a fairly relaxed day waiting for the storm to arrive.

"We went to the gym and ate lunch," Hanover firefighter David Johnson recalled. "Brad, the Lieutenant, he told us to just take it easy because we're planning on staying up all night probably."

It was recently-hired firefighter Carter Lewis' first day on the street, but it was not supposed to be.

Impending storms forced the postponement of his firefighter graduation.

"They sent us all out into the field that night just to help out with the storm prep," Lewis said.

And then a call for help just before 9 p.m.

The Crash

"We were dispatched to a crash, a two-vehicle crash on 295 south right near the Meadowbridge Exit," Johnson said.

Johnson drove a firetruck to the crash scene. Lewis, Chris Elish, and their leader Lieutenant Brad Clark rode along.

They pulled to the side of the road and activated the truck's emergency lights.

"We stopped at the first car, we all got out, and we were going to walk up to the second car," Lewis said.

But, barely five seconds into their response they heard Brad scream.

"He said something before, he warned us, like you gotta be kidding me, oh my God, or something like that," Elish said

"I heard Brad yelling. At first I thought it was something for the people we were there for, so I started running, and it just hit us," Lewis said.

Virginia State Police said truck driver Lewis Labarge lost control of his tractor-trailer and slammed into the firetruck.

"The only thing I kind of remember is my ears popping and taking a breath, like it kinda taking my breath away," Johnson said.

The Call

Moments after the crash on Interstate 295, a call was made to VCU Medical Center.

"We got the call that there had been an accident on the interstate involving a fire engine," Dr. Jeffrey Ferguson, an Emergency Physician at VCU Health, said.

"We had about 10-15 minutes heads up that we were getting patients," Rachel Middlebrook, a Registered Nurse for VCU Health, said. "I initially responded to take care of Brad Clark."

In Richmond, the team working in the VCU Medical Center Emergency Room prepared to receive three patients.

"We wound up with two patients, Carter and Dave," Dr. Ferguson said.

Doctor Ferguson took over David's care.

"I know that he had a small bleed in his brain, he had broken ribs, essentially all of his ribs but one were broken on the right side, he had injuries to his liver as well as essentially a crush injury to his pelvis and right thigh," Dr. Ferguson said.

While nurse Middlebrook assisted with Carter.

"There was no hope of saving that right leg, and it was very obvious as soon as he got there," she said.

Both firefighters had serious injuries that needed immediate attention.

"I can imagine if his transport time were longer, or if he had not had immediate attention, these could have potentially been lethal," Dr. Ferguson said.

While David and Carter would survive, their leader, their shining knight, who yelled out when he saw the oncoming truck, would not.

"The only real regret is that we didn't get a chance to take care of Brad," Dr. Ferguson said.

The Loss

"As he caught that call, we were on the phone, and I heard the tones go off as I often did, so I was...," Melanie Clark, the wife of Lt. Brad Clark, said before tearing up.

Not long after that call, Melanie Clark's phone started ringing off the hook.

"When one of my brother-in-laws called me and said there was a new accident, I looked on a social media platform," Clark said.

That's when she knew her husband was gone.

"I saw where there were prayers offered up for Station 6 and there was one fatality, and I knew it was him because he wouldn't put his guys in a position that he wouldn't go first," she said. "That's just Brad."

Although she lost the love of her life that night she gained a family.

"We're family, and we're bonded in ways that I have a hard time describing," Clark said.

Lewis lost part of his right leg.

Johnson still uses a cane and has not been able to return to work yet.

"I don't know how they piece it together, but they did a good job," Johnson said.

But both firefighters said they're grateful to every shining knight, first and foremost Lt. Brad Clark, who saved their lives.

"It was a really close call for all of us. I mean, as bad as things are it could have been a lot worse, had things gone differently, and had Brad not done what he did," Johnson said.

VCU Health is honoring Lt. Brad Clark and all of the Shining Knights who helped save Johnson and Lewis's lives, at the Shining Knight Gala on May 18.

Melanie Clark will receive the honor in her husband's name.

Her life is now devoted to trying to prevent others from getting hit while trying to help others on the side of the interstate.

VCU Medical Center is the only Level I trauma center for adults, pediatrics and burn injuries in Central Virginia.

The trauma team admits over 4,000 trauma patients each year and has provided the most comprehensive trauma care in the community for over 30 years.