BROOKLYN, N.S. - Ashley Holland was wiping away tears as she thanked the Brooklyn and Hantsport fire departments for their help, following a horrific accident Jan. 20 that nearly claimed their lives.
The Brooklyn Fire Department presented Holland with a plaque, featuring a photo of her with her four-year-old daughter, Macy, thanking her for her courage.
On a stormy Sunday morning, on their way to a birthday party, Ashley’s car, a grey Toyota Corolla, hit some black ice and she lost control.
She can recall the scenario like it was yesterday, describing it as if things were in slow motion. She braced herself, trying not to roll into the ditch, but momentum was in control that day.
The car ended up in the water, initially on its roof, before flipping around, with its wheels scraping the bottom.
Ashley broke out of the car and then once out of the vehicle, went back get her daughter to safety.
Freezing from the icy water, she pulled her daughter out of the child safety seat and brought her safely to the side of the ditch.
Firefighters, who were en route to a chimney fire in Mount Denson, stopped to provide assistance, some of them taking the clothes off their backs to keep the mother and daughter warm. They also provided Macy with a teddy bear.
She still sleeps with it.
“In the moment I was so in shock and just kept asking ‘is she OK, is she OK,’ and they were just reassuring me,” Ashley said. “And it was cold that day. For them to make that sacrifice, being freezing cold themselves to bring our body temperatures back up is unbelievable.”
Ashley was brought to tears multiple times at the Brooklyn Civic Centre, which is attached to the fire hall, where two plaques were presented to fire departments, Hantsport and Brooklyn, and one to her and her daughter on Jan. 24.
“It meant so much to me to have the firefighters recognize what I had to do to get her out and to have us present all of the awards to the firemen was just amazing,” she said. “It was a life-changing experience for us.”
Coping with the aftermath
Their story has captivated readers across the country, as major networks began to follow what happened.
Ashley says its captivated so many because of how lucky they were.
“You see stories like this all the time and the people usually don’t make it out alive,” she said. “What makes this so special is that we’re both still here.”
She also spoke to the importance of seeking out mental health supports following such a traumatic experience.
Holland, who says she’s dealt with anxiety and depression, said she’s doing everything she can to deal with the trauma for her and her daughter by seeking counselling.
“We had to pull over quite a few times on our way here. (Macy) was hyperventilating, screaming and crying, but we got her calmed down,” she said. “Mentally, it’s going to take her a little bit. Now she’s running around, laughing and happy, so we’re hopeful it won’t take too much of a toll on her.”
This was also the first time Ashley has driven a car since the accident.
“It was really hard, but as we went along, the easier it was,” she said.
“It’s going to take me some time too. I’m having a hard time eating and sleeping at night, but I know eventually I’m going to be OK,” she added.
“I’ve been through the mental health system before and I know how much they’re able to help,” she said. “That was a really traumatic experience and I don’t want her to be traumatized for the rest of her life; I want to seek help for her so she gets the help she needs.”
Ashley said one of the harder aspects of the aftermath is some of the negative comments and messages she’s received on social media.
“It’s hard to read, but I am going through that right now,” she said.
“People are questioning me like, ‘well why didn’t you take your daughter out first?’ and I’ve had to think back and ask if I should have done that, but at the same time, I’m happy I didn’t get her out of the window first, because she would have went right into the water and been severely hypothermic, with her age and size. Since I was able to get her out second, I was able to carry her above the water.”
This terrifying scenario is something that has gone through many people’s heads, asking ‘what would I do?’ if in her shoes.
Her words of wisdom?
“Just try and stay calm as you can and think rationally. I know in that moment that I probably wasn’t thinking rationally, and thinking back, I’m going through all of the things I could have done differently,” she said. “But at the same time, I’m happy that I didn’t, because when I went through my car window to get out, I was completely underwater.”
A bright spot was that Ashely didn’t bring her infant daughter with her that day. However, thoughts like, ‘who would I have taken out first,’ and other questions have been pressing on her mind as she relives the horrors of that day.
“As a mom, having multiple children, how can you choose?” she said. “I know that I would have done everything I could to get them both out safely, but I think that maybe I would have been left behind.”
‘I want to say thank you’
Macy Holland, acting like a typical four-year-old, has a big smile as she marvels at the firetruck out front, running around and inspecting all of the different hoses and buttons. She said she’d like to be a firefighter herself someday.
She eagerly gave out hugs to the members of the Brooklyn and Hantsport fire departments who were there, and it was clear that the volunteers were just as happy to give a hug back.
“It was good because she is safe and we’re still alive,” Macy said, showing a tremendous amount of maturity for someone so young. “I want to say thank you.”
Capt. Ryan Richard, with the Brooklyn Fire Department, initially spotted the vehicle in the water while his crew was on their way to a chimney fire in Mount Denson. He said their story has touched the whole department.
“I hate to say it, but these types of situations are almost always fatal,” Richard said.
When the firefighters arrived, they provided Ashley and Macy with warm clothes, keeping them warm until EHS arrived.
“My grandfather used to tell me that you can build all the racecars you want, but you have to win the race to be successful, and that was the case on Sunday,” he said. “I was the one that spotted the vehicle, but it’s my crew that saved them from any type of long-term (injury).”
Richard said three of the members that were on the fire truck that day were fathers themselves.
“I have a daughter of my own, and it was overwhelming to witness them putting their training into action and the sympathy and compassion that they showed,” he said.
Plaques were also presented to the Hantsport Fire Department and the Brooklyn Fire Department for their service on that day.
The first plaque was presented to the Hantsport Fire Department, to deputy chief Paul Maynard, as a thank you for their support.
“It was a great feeling for me personally, seeing them pull up on scene with their heavy rescue, to help extract the vehicle from the water,” Richard said.
“It was a big concern of mine where Ashley was hypothermic, disoriented with a possible concussion where the vehicle did roll twice,” he said.
“We just wanted to show our appreciation to Hantsport for how much we value their service.”