Big Save

posted by / News / August 22, 2008

When you’re a trained boatman on Tavarua, you’re job as a lifesaver can sometimes come in handy at the oddest times — and the oddest places. La Jolla, California’s Derek Dunfee has plucked his fair share of over-ambitious guests from the chaos of inside Cloudbreak on expert-only days, but he never thought he’d be pulling someone from a burning car just a few miles away from his home. And not only did Dunfee kick into rescue mode and assist in a daring save — he did it all with a broken leg. Just 8 weeks ago, Dunfee’s two-month stint on Tavarua came to a painful halt when he was compressed to his board on a rather heavy one at Cloudbreak. Since it’s not everyday that one of the surfing communities better-known faces pulls off a rescue like this, we wanted to get the story out to everyone. Here’s how it unfolded, according to Derek.

This all happened Sunday afternoon. I had just gotten off of La Jolla Village Drive and was heading home. As soon as I got off the freeway, I saw it. There was a white car that was spun in the road and then a black {{{Explorer}}} that was flipped and sitting in the middle of the road.

It was so surreal. I probably got there less than 30 seconds after it happened. As soon as I processed what was happening, I pulled over and jumped out of my truck. I was in such a rush though that I just stopped my truck and didn’t put it in park — not even the E-brake. So, I’m out of my truck and it starts rolling towards the white car that was involved in the accident. What was worse is that since I broke my leg, I haven’t put any major pressure on it — and I definitely haven’t ran on it. But I ran to that truck. Luckily, I got it stopped just before it hit that white car.

And that wasn’t all the running I did. The white car didn’t have anyone in it, so I immediately bolted to the flipped Explorer. Another guy ran with me who was an EMT. He asked me if I had any experience and I said yeah, which I do, from all of the lifeguard training we have to do as boatmen on Tavarua.

There was already this guy trying to pull the older lady out who was trapped. She was completely knocked out and this guy — even though he was just trying to help — was just pulling on her, which is the absolute worst thing to do if you’re not sure if the person has a neck injury. So, the EMT and I took over.

Smoke was filling the inside of the Explorer and I could see small pools of oil and gas leaking on the road. I knew we had to get her out of there right away. I don’t know if cars blow up like they make it seem in the movies, but I knew we had to get her out of there fast.

We broke the window to get in. We stabilized the lady and carefully pulled her out. The whole time black smoke is just getting thicker and thicker. We took her to a safe place on the curb, away from her Explorer.

By this time an ambulance had showed up and they were beeping at my truck, which was blocking them from getting closer. The lady was beginning to wake up on the curb and the EMT was watching over her to make sure she was ok. Crazy enough, she was hardly injured at all, just in serious shock.


Heroes aren’t you’re average humans. Dunfee, right, demonstrates.

Since the paramedics were getting pretty pissed that my truck was right in the way, I just hopped in my truck and drove home. No reports or talking to anyone other than the EMT that I helped save the lady with.

As I drove off I was just like what the hell just happened. It all ufolded so fast and I was wondering if I should have just driven off like that, but I knew everyone was OK.

So I just went home and went to the beach with my girlfriend. All I said when I walked the through the door was, ‘You have no idea what just happened to me.’

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  • james seqin

    I just subscribed to the magazines, and am supposed to get a free surfing T shirt. They didn’t ask my size, so how can they send me a T shirt? I’m an XL. If I don’t get the shirt, I will cancel my subscription, and dispute the charge.