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Tunnel Roadside Assistance Saving Lives, Receiving Recognition

December 15, 2022 11:00 AM
By: Yasmeen Manyisha

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The Allegheny County Tunnels Organization received the "Face of PennDOT" award in September 2022. Why? As the only tunnels organization in state, these individuals play a very pivotal role in maintaining and assisting motorists traveling through the City of Pittsburgh every day. While the average person barely realizes they exist, these first responder-trained crew members are serving the motoring public in ways that many would never expect.

This spring, the tunnels crew received a thank you letter from a set of grandparents who had a recent interaction with the crew from the Squirrel Hill tunnel. Their granddaughter had been in a multi-vehicle collision on Interstate 376 right outside the tunnel. The crew assisted everyone in the crash and ensured there were no injuries. Once the grandparents arrived on the scene and called for a tow truck, unfortunately, they had to wait eight hours for a tow truck to come. While they waited the kind crew assisted them and checked in on them regularly. The grandparents felt very appreciative for all the crew members did to keep them calm and comfortable during the stressful situation. The wonderful crew working that day consisted of Andre Faucette, Mark Lawrence, Nana Adusepoku, Fred Seibel, George Dyer, Nate Bodenheimer, Fred Seibel, and Ron Kalupson.

On another occasion, the quick and level-headed thinking of tunnel maintainers, Jay Varner and Greg Cox, saved a young man's life. After observing several vehicles stopped on Interstate 376 outside of the Squirrel Hill tunnel, the pair realized there was a person prepared to jump roughly 100 feet off the bridge to the roadway below. Varner and Cox immediately took action, calmly talking to the young man and encouraging him to step back from the ledge. Once this was accomplished, the two men continued to comfort the individual, brought him back to their nearby office and notified authorities. The life-saving action of these two men, not only rescued a person going through a rough time, but also allowed him the opportunity to get the help that he needs. 

Earlier this summer, tunnel maintainers, Joe Hassett and Bruce Ferguson did not hesitate to put themselves at risk to save a stranger's life. As Joe and Bruce were the first on scene to respond to an impaired driving crash outside of the Liberty Tunnel, they noticed the vehicle had caught on fire, with the driver outside and a passenger unconscious in the front seat. While Bruce attempted to extinguish the fire to no avail, Joe began trying to unwedge the smashed car door with a crowbar and get to the passenger. With great persistence and urgency to rush against the increasing flames, Joe finally was able to pry the door open and climb into the burning vehicle. He quickly unfastened the passenger's seat belt and carry them to safety. By the time Emergency Medical Services were on scene to address the fire, the entire front seat was engulfed, confirming a far worse outcome for the trapped passenger. Joe and Bruce's fearless attitudes and quick-thinking is the reason that individual is still alive.  

As a result of Jay, Greg, Joe, and Bruce's heroic acts while on duty, each of the four tunnel workers were presented with the PennDOT Workplace Hero Award. As the award was given to them earlier in the year, on December 7, 2022, Governor Tom Wolf invited each of the men and their spouses to his office in the City of Pittsburgh to officially present them with the awards and thank them for their service.

During the meeting with Governor Wolf the group discussed the privileges and challenges of public service, as the governor applauded the crew members for being ideal government employees and representing the department in the best light, both during and beyond their admiral heroic acts. From the extreme acts of bravery, they show when the public needs it the most, to the daily encounters they have, helping motorists safely travel to and from the City of Pittsburgh, these honorable people display what government service is all about.

With the equivalence of a county within PennDOT's District 11 (Allegheny, Beaver, and Lawrence counties), the tunnels not only assist motorists as they make their daily travels but the also help save lives. District 11 is pleased to have such a strong and dedicated organization within their region and proud they have been honored for all the great work they do. Thank you tunnels crew!

(Attached photos:  Tunnels Organization receiving the "Face of PennDOT award". Left to right: Assistant Manager- Eugene Clifton, Current Manager- Paul Manyisha, Former Manager – Ben DeVore, Assistant Manager – Todd Caddy

Governor Wolf speaking to the honored tunnel crew members and their spouses

Honorees and their awards. Left to right: Joe Hassett – Tunnel Maintainer, Paul Manyisha – Tunnels Manager, Jay Varner – Tunnel Maintainer, Governor Wolf, Greg Cox – Tunnel Maintainer, Lori Musto – Assistant District Executive of Maintenance)