WHITE PLAINS — While they are filling potholes one day and plowing snow the next, there are certain parts of the workday for CSEA member Jay Gonzalez and his co-workers that are practically a daily ritual.
One thing you can count on is them using their afternoon break to make a quick stop at a local store to grab a drink or snack.
When they made that stop on one recent summer day, however, Gonzalez, a motor equipment operator at the City of White Plains, remained in his work truck as his co-worker went inside.
That decision may have saved a life.
Jumping into action
“As I was sitting there, a lady came running and knocked on the window,” Gonzalez said. “She was knocking hard and crying. I opened the door and she said, ‘Do you have a knife, do you have something that can cut a seat belt? My daughter is choking!’”
Gonzalez grabbed the first item he could find in his work truck, a screwdriver, and ran toward the woman’s car.
“When I looked in the car, I saw the girl had the back seat belt wrapped around her neck,” he said. “I wanted to make sure she could catch her breath first, so I was able to use the screwdriver to nudge the belt away from her neck, and she took a deep breath.”
Gonzalez bolted back to his work truck, grabbing a portable handsaw stowed inside.
“I was able to run back and cut the seat belt on the top, so I was able to get it off her neck,” he said. “She had the seat belt wrapped around her neck, and when she went to unbuckle it, the seat belt had tightened like it does when the car is in motion and you hit the brakes.”
As a father of a 3-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son, Gonzalez knew firsthand the fear the young girl’s mother was experiencing.
“One day when my son was younger, he was choking and it was so scary,” he said. “I was in shock when it happened to my son, so I knew when I saw this girl’s mom panicking that I had to make sure to get her out as quickly as I could.”
All in a day’s work
Gonzalez went on with work as usual after the rescue, but after hearing what happened, City of White Plains Unit President Joe Longo felt more widespread kudos were in order.
“It means a lot to see anybody do something courageous like that,” Longo said. “These days, many people would rather take out their phones and videotape something like this rather than jumping into action. Jay is a good father, friend and union brother. We’re all very proud of him.”
Gonzalez remains humble, but said he realizes he was in the right place that day at the right time.
“Every time I go to that store, I always get out and buy something,” he said. “That day, for some reason I didn’t leave. I feel like for some reason it was meant to be.”
— Jessica Ladlee