Bear River firefighter to receive the Medal of Bravery

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier
Published on June 24, 2014

Bear River firefighter Jamie Van Tassell, centre, will receive the Medal of Bravery in October. Here he shows his parents, Mason and Annette, the official letter from the office of the Governor General of Canada.

©Jonathan Riley

A volunteer firefighter from Bear River will receive the Medal of Bravery from the Governor General of Canada for his efforts to save three people from burning vehicles on Highway 101 near Little Brook two years ago.

Jamie Van Tassell was rushing to Yarmouth on May 9, 2012 with his mother and his wife, after hearing his father had been admitted to hospital after having had a heart attack.

While the three were on their way to Yarmouth, an oncoming car hydroplaned, hit the shoulder and went rolling through the air, landing about 15 feet behind Van Tassell’s bumper. The car kept rolling right into another vehicle behind Van Tassell.

Van Tassell whipped his car around and saw both vehicles in flames, the one that had hydroplaned was on its side.

He immediately went to help.

He pulled the elderly male driver from the car that was on its side with help from another young man.

He found a pulse and someone told him there was a woman on the passenger side. The woman didn’t have a pulse and Van Tassell says the car was so crumpled he could not have pulled her out without the jaws of life.

Checking the pulse again on the driver, Van Tassell felt it go weak and says the man died as he watched.

When he went to help the female driver of the second car, he found her door was jammed shut by the collision.

He managed to bend a part of the door and pry it free and then pulled the door open.

The woman told him she was comfortable where she was, but he insisted she get out as the engine compartment was on fire and flames were licking the windshield.

Van Tassell gave a quick statement to the RCMP and then hurried off to Yarmouth.

Later he filled out a detailed report for the RCMP and asked a friend and fellow Bear River firefighter Chris Howe to check it over.

Howe made a copy of the report and sent off a nomination to the Governor-General’s office.

Van Tassell didn’t know he had been nominated for the Medal of Bravery until he received a phone call from the Governor General’s office last week.

“I was shocked,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, I’ve been around it all my life. I just did what anyone else would have done.”

Van Tassell has been a firefighter for 17 years, he was an instructor at the Nova Scotia Fire School for 11 years and has been a paramedic for the last two years.

His father, Mason, the one having the heart attack in Yarmouth, was a firefighter himself in Digby and Weymouth for 27 years.

When Jamie finally got to the Yarmouth hospital, his father was suffering more heart attacks and staff were struggling to keep him alive.

“It was a crazy day,” said Jamie. “There was a lot going on.”

A month later, Mason was released from hospital and Jamie finally told his father what happened.

“He was speechless,” said Jamie. “I knew he would have wanted me to stop. He would have stopped.”

A year later when the official letter from the Governor General’s office arrived in the mail, Mason was able to speak.

“I’m some proud father,” said Mason. “Now he can put M.B at the end of his name for the rest of his life.”

The letter also mentions a presentation ceremony.

Jamie says that he and his wife will be flown to Ottawa in October to receive the medal from David Johnston, the Governor General of Canada.

The Medal of Bravery was created by Queen Elizabeth II in 1972 on the advice of the Government of Canada under Pierre Trudeau. The award recognizes people, living or dead, who have committed acts of bravery in hazardous circumstances.