When Alex Galarza and Paulino Ortega set out for work Monday morning, it was a familiar task ahead of them following a familiar route. Both men are employees with Waste Management of Charlotte County, Florida, and have been driving garbage trucks for years.
“I’ve been doing this 4 1/2 years. Paulino has been doing it for 15,” Galarza told WINK. “We get a lot of satisfaction out of doing what we do.
“We help each other Paulino has, you know, his English is not great, so I help him. And he helps some in other ways. Here, we are a team. We help each other.”
Because so much of their job follows a routine, anything unusual stands out like a sore thumb. Early Monday morning, that included a golf cart that was overturned at the end of a driveway along their route.
“It was approximately 5:30 in the morning,” Galarza said. “We had just completed Palmetto Ridge Court and which is in Riverwood Community. And once we turn, took a right turn on … Long Lake Lane.
“Paulino had noticed somebody waving at him. It was the first house on the left. And he stopped, immediately stopped and honked the horn. He says, ‘Alex, looks like there’s somebody over there that needs our help.’
“So I went around and looked, and there was an older gentleman. He was caught underneath the golf cart. He was all soaking wet.”
The elderly man was 83 and had been trapped under the cart overnight. He had tried calling for help, but when no help came, he tried to cover himself as best as he could with cardboard boxes he had on hand in an attempt to stay warm.
By the time Galarza and Ortega found him, he’d been there almost eight hours and was starting to suffer from hypothermia, so they called 911, started administering first aid, and covered him up until medics arrived and took over.
“Actually could have lost the man,” Galarza said. “Nobody saw him… It was almost eight hours of him being underneath that golf cart, freezing. He took some cardboard boxes to cover himself to keep warm.”
The man was taken in for medical care, and the two Waste Management employees are being heralded as heroes.
“We are so proud of our drivers, who remain vigilant on their routes and are quick to offer assistance when one of our neighbors is in need,” Todd Peres, Senior District Manager for WM of Charlotte County, told WFLA-TV.
“WM employees have undergone proper training in what to look for and how to respond in the case of an emergency or unusual activity,” the company added.
“Should anything occur while on their routes, drivers have the necessary tools to act quickly in communicating that information to 911 or their dispatcher in the case of a non-life-threatening emergency.”
But if you ask Galarza, he and Ortega aren’t heroes, they’re simply human.
“No… no… not a hero,” Galarza said. “I just did what a human being should have done.”
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