Paraplegic Trapped in Burning Van. Off-Duty EMT Spots Him Before Flames Take His Life


James Clayton was driving his hand-controlled handicap van on Jan. 30 in Raymond, Mississippi, when suddenly he found himself and the van flying down an embankment.

A paraplegic, Clayton began to panic and tried reaching into the back of the van for his wheelchair to make his escape.

But the car had burst into flames under the hood and they were growing fast. He was quickly running out of time and options.

Meanwhile, off-duty volunteer EMT Courtney Tullos was driving by on the parkway when she noticed the van down the embankment.

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She had no idea the man inside the van was a paraplegic, but knew she had to help. She ran down to the car as the flames continued to grow.

“When I got to him, I saw flames coming from under the hood,” Tullos said. “That’s when I knew he had to come fast.

“At the time, I didn’t realize he was a paraplegic. I saw the wheelchair in the back seat and that’s what he was reaching for.”

Thankfully, Tullos was able to make it to Clayton in time to pull him from danger before the car was engulfed in flames. “I wanted to get out. I needed to get out,” Clayton said.

And even though she knew it was dangerous, she decided to head straight back toward the blaze to save Clayton’s specialized wheelchair.

“I went back and got the wheelchair,” she said. “I think I broke the door in the process, not that that’s important now, but I did get the chair out, too.”

The wheelchair, as Tullos explained, was one of the few things Clayton had to help him keep his send of independence.

“Or all of his way of life would be on hold for a while until he could get another one, because it’s a specialized chair,” she said.

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“I’m glad I was there before it got to the point you see in the pictures and video,” she continued. “Just thinking of what could have happened, I feel blessed that I was able to help.”

Clayton was taken to the hospital after the fire and was released the following day.  Until he can get another van, Clayton’s family, friends, and church community are helping him get around town.

And although he was a bit shaken from the situation, Clayton was extremely grateful to Tullos. “She helped a lot. Thank God that I made it,” he said.

The volunteer fire department was also proud of Tullos’ selfless actions that day. “(She) represented us in the best kind of way that you could imagine by doing that,” Raymond Volunteer Fire Department Chief Michael Wilson said. “Just being there, stopping and helping on her own. It makes this whole community proud.”

Courtney said that she just knew it was the right thing to do. “None of us ever do it for the recognition. We are just there to help those who can’t,” she said.

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Liz was a senior story editor for The Western Journal.
Liz was a senior story editor for The Western Journal.
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