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Snow plow drivers recognized for saving family

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Outside News Source May 31, 2011

When a family, including five children, became stuck in the snow on US 191 in December, Arizona Department of Transportation snowplows were called in to reach the family, render aid and escort them out of the frozen eastern Arizona highway.

Frank Gidney and Lonnie Baca were recently recognized as lifesavers by ADOT Director John Halikowski for their late-night rescue this past winter.

When Department of Public Safety officers were unable to reach the family because of heavy snow and freezing temperatures, the Highway Patrol contacted ADOT for assistance.

"This case reinforces the important role ADOT staff members serve as part of the state's public safety team," Halikowski said. "When this family needed help, only ADOT could reach them. Frank and Lonnie exemplify the spirit of humble service that all ADOT employees share. But we can't ever forget the risks and challenges our staff face every day when working to keep drivers safe."

Gidney and Baca, based out of the Springerville maintenance office, received the initial dispatch call requesting assistance around 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 31 for a stuck vehicle on the snowpacked US 191 in the far eastern portion of the state.

Gidney, an ADOT highway operation technician, was patrolling in a snowplow and responded to the call for help. Once he reached the scene, Gidney teamed up with a DPS officer and only then learned that they were searching for a family – stuck in the snow and out of gas.

Gidney's snowplow started to clear the way as he and the officer moved toward the family's reported location. They soon were joined by Baca, another ADOT highway operation technician, who also was driving a snowplow.

Several hours after the initial call for help, the three made it to the stranded family, which included five young children. Weather conditions at that time were severe, with the temperature well below freezing and several feet of snow on the roadway.

When they reached the family, everyone was OK.

"There was ice on the inside of the windows of the (family's) vehicle," Gidney said.

"They said they couldn't thank us enough," Baca added.

The ADOT crew and DPS officer managed to get fuel for the family's vehicle and assisted them in making it back to a hotel in nearby Alpine.

This was not an everyday highway maintenance call, but it is a situation ADOT personnel are prepared to tackle through training programs and simulator practice for snowplow drivers.

"You run into people who are stuck, but not a desperate situation like this," Gidney said. "Lonnie and I feel there's nothing we did that anyone else wouldn't have done."

Even though they are modest about the lifesaving assistance they provided, Baca and Gidney's coworkers definitely feel they are heroes. The two were awarded ADOT Lifesaving Awards on April 28.

ADOT Director John Halikowski, State Engineer Floyd Roehrich, Jr. and Deputy State Engineer Dallas Hammit traveled to Globe to present the awards and offer their thanks.

"It's important work that you do," Halikowski told the two, along with their fellow highway operation technicians, during the awards presentation. "Thank you."

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