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Imagine for a moment that you are a semi-truck driver. And what was regular run through Louisville, Kentucky went sideways. Another vehicle involved in a multi-car accident jumped the divider of the Clark Memorial Bridge, smashed into your truck, and sent you careening off the roadway. Next thing you know, you are trapped in the cab of your truck which is dangling 100-feet over the Ohio River.

This is the exact scenario Sydney Thomas, a Sysco delivery driver, found herself in last week. And despite the horrifying circumstances, she got very lucky twice. First of all, her semi-truck’s trailer passed through the bridge’s stanchions at such an extreme angle that it became wedged firmly in place. Secondly, a brave Louisville Firefighter volunteered to rescue her–by jumping off the bridge.

When the fire team arrived on the scene, they knew they needed to get Thomas out of the truck as soon as possible. But the truck was suspended over a river: there was no way to get to it from below. But they were not out of options: The department had been trained in a “pickoff” operation. The gist is using a ladder truck’s ladder as a boom so a firefighter in a climbing harness can rappel down to a disaster scene. But they needed someone brave enough to make the leap.

Bryce Carden stepped up to attempt the rescue.

Louisville firefighter Bryce Carden during an interview with the news.
Bryce Carden | WHAS11 via YouTube

The 29-year-old said, “Captain Renn trusted me to do it.” But that didn’t make it easy, “I had to get my mind right that I was going to be the guy to go down.”

After psyching himself up, Carden climbed into a harness. Once the ladder truck was in position, directly over the cab, he jumped off the bridge. Hanging 100 feet over the water, he was able to rappel himself, slowly, toward the truck.

Once the team was confident that the truck wasn’t moving, they were careful and precise with the operation. Carden admitted, “Rope rescues aren’t fast.”

When he got to the cab, he found Thomas still conscious, but hanging from her seatbelt. She repeated “thank God” when she saw him and asked him to help her.

Carden instructed her roll down the window and handed a second harness through. “I was able to coach her through helping me get done what I needed to get done to perform the rescue.” But as he clipped his harness to hers, through the semi-truck’s open window, he realized they had reached a point of no return.

A firefighter rescues a truck driver from a semi-truck crash.
A firefighter rescues a woman from a semi-truck crash | WLKY

“You got to think, ‘She’s still in the 18-wheeler and I’m attached to her.'” Carden knew the truck could let loose at any moment. “We would have went down with the 18-wheeler.”

Carden said, “Are you a praying woman?” and Thomas answered, “Yeah, I pray.” So he said, “Alright, let’s pray together.” Then the “topside” crew began to lift Carden and as he rose, he guided Thomas out of the truck’s open window.

But Thomas and Carden still had one more heart-stopping moment. “When she transitioned over to my harness, her foot was still on the brake. So when she let off the brake–you know how air brakes work–it makes a big loud noise. I think everybody’s heart dropped on scene for a minute…it gave us a bit of a scare.”

In total, Thomas spent 40 minutes trapped in the cab of her semi-truck, staring at the water far below. How did it feel having her feet back on solid ground? Carden said, “Finally, when she realized she was safe and she was going to live, she was overcome with emotions, as anybody would be.”

Carden admitted that the “pickoff” operation required a lot of bravery, but he’s quick to contribute “all of the success of it” to the firefighters “topside” and supporting down below. “It was a big puzzle, and I’m just a small piece. I’m proud to be on this department.”

Carden’s friends and family still see him as a hero. After the news story got national coverage, many recognized him as the rescuer. “It’s been a wild few days…My phone has finally stopped ringing, and calmed down just a little bit.”

One bystander took a bit longer to identify Carden as the rescuer. When he left the station to respond to the bridge, he texted his wife and 16-month-old daughter, “There’s a semi over the bridge, here we go.” So his wife turned on the TV and watched operation live while she fed the baby. But Carden had forgotten his phone at the station, so couldn’t update her further. It wasn’t until the rescue was nearly over that one of Carden’s colleagues thought to text his wife the identity of the helmeted firefighter dangling over the water. She said she nearly dropped the baby bottle.

Next, learn about the heroic dad who used ratchet straps to rescue a mother and toddler trapped in a sinking car, or watch an interview with Carden in the video below: