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Hero Operator Lauded For Crash Rescue

For most, it would be an extraordinary act - and one they'd rather let someone else handle.

For veteran bus operator John Fluellen, it was a matter of simply reacting, following his instincts and heeding what experience has taught him.

Last October, as Fluellen was driving his Route 9 bus along the City Avenue Bridge, a mini-van ahead of him struck a guardrail and flipped over.

Fluellen - admittedly a bit stunned by what he was witnessing - jumped into action. Within seconds, he had his bus safely stopped and was running toward the distressed vehicle, which by then was spewing smoke and steam.

"At first, my eyes told me, 'No, I'm not seeing this,'" Fluellen said when asked what raced through his mind as he watched the teetering mini-van crash and topple. "But my immediate thought was to get out and help the people in that vehicle. There really isn't any training for this kind of thing, but your experience helps you figure out what to do."

Fluellen may have actually ended up creating a tool that shows exactly how to handle these situations - with the help of the bus security camera. The dramatic footage shows Fluellen running to the van, briefly disappearing from sight, and then emerging with the young woman who was driving the vehicle. There were no other passengers.

Fluellen walked the shaken motorist to his bus, and tended to her while they waited for emergency personnel to arrive.

"My concern was basically, 'Is this person okay?'" Fluellen said. "I didn't think about anything else."

Thanks in no small part to Fluellen's quick, decisive action, the woman was not seriously injured. Her family was so grateful, they contacted SEPTA and told them about Fluellen's heroism. He was honored by the SEPTA Board and General Manager Joseph M. Casey at December's meeting.

"This was a heroic act," Casey said. "John took immediate action - safely bringing the bus to a stop, extricating the young woman from the van, and bringing her back to the bus to wait for emergency services."

"It felt good to be recognized at the board meeting," Fluellen said. "As an employee, it tells you that the people you're working for appreciate what you do."

"But I never set out for any accolades," he quickly added. "My concern was just for this person in the other vehicle and making sure they were okay."

Regardless of whether the former Marine wants praise, he's getting it from all corners. In addition to receiving an award at the board meeting, Fluellen's co-workers and friends have added "hero" to his name.

And while his modest nature keeps him from getting caught up in what others are saying about him, Fluellen is proud to talk about one particularly special honor. For Christmas, his daughter gave him a gift certificate to a restaurant, with a heartfelt note attached.

"A great dinner, fit for a superhero," Fluellen said, reciting the message inside the card. "That was really nice, to get that from her."

With this dramatic event now in his rearview mirror, the 54-year-old Fluellen continues to go about his job with the same professionalism that has marked his nearly three-decade tenure at SEPTA.

And while this crash rescue was a first for him, he wouldn't be surprised to find himself in the same type of situation again.

"Nothing surprises you anymore," he said. "That probably comes from 28 years out here driving and watching people do crazy things."

"I've been told by a lot of people that I'm a very patient person, and I don't let too may things bother me," Fluellen said. "You just have to stay calm out here and be ready for anything."

"You never know what could happen."

Bus operator John Fluellen and General Manager Joseph M. Casey.

Security video shows Fluellen running toward the overturned mini-van.

Fluellen emerges from crash scene escorting the victim, a young woman, to safety.

Fluellen takes the motorist on his bus to wait for emergency help.

Fluellen helps the crash victim tend to some cuts and bruises.