WINCHESTER – Bill Workman was crumpled.
Pinned beneath his antique hobby tractor with little air left in his lungs, he used what strength he had to make a desperate plea for help.
Knowing his wife wasn’t likely to hear him, she having retired to the basement of their Mountain area home for relief from the heat of the day and sanctuary in an air-conditioned basement.
With the windows closed tight in the home, Workman still made the call. He did what he had to – it was life or death.
“I called just hoping someone would hear it,” he said.
Mere moments earlier on that day in late May he had been busily clearing a hedgerow on his property, 50-feet in all.
The task was loathsome, but Workman was going to do the job right or not at all. More than felling the trees, he was meticulously pulling stumps from the ground at the same time. With a chain wrapped around the base, Workman geared up the 1952 International, working the brake and clutch in earnest. He gave one more look over his shoulder to ensure the stump ball wasn’t set to roll back into the hole, and then turned around to hit the gas and move on.
It wouldn’t be that smooth of an ending, however. Instead, when Workman was facing forward again he was looking directly into the daytime sky, the sun blinding him, and his mind racing.
The tractor would ultimately topple over, the seatback digging into the ground below and the steering column on the machinery pinning Workman in place. He had instinctively moved ever so slightly on the way down, narrowly missing being impaled by the hydraulic levers.
A forceful impact once he hit the Earth below, Workman’s glasses were thrown off, along with the helmet he’d been wearing. Now with impaired vision, not to mention being disoriented by the day’s sunlight, he could only make out the shadows of two figures that had arrived on the scene.
Twenty-five feet from his garage door is where Workman’s life would have assuredly ended if not for the response of neighbours Paul Simms and Shannon Horsburgh.
The father and daughter had been chatting in the driveway when each heard the distant call. A 35-year member of Mountain’s fire detachment, Simms is all too familiar with incidents like this, as is Horsburgh, an emergency room nurse at Winchester District Memorial Hospital.
When they arrived, Workman was still struggling to escape the tractor’s clutches. He was able to inform Simms of where in his garage a jack could be found, and made sure that his wife put in a call to 911.
“Imagine… A retired first responder and an ER nurse show up, all before 911 had even been called,” Workman said. “It was like I’d won some kind of lottery.”
With Simms manning the jack, he was able to lift the rear section of the tractor, while Horsburgh stuck by Workman’s side and pulled him free once there was room to do so.
The timing was critical.
As Workman would come to learn, he was injured far worse than he’d believed. On the right side of his body, he’d suffered 10 shattered ribs and a punctured lung. On the left, both his pancreas and a heart valve were damaged, and he had internal bleeding.
“I cannot highlight enough the timeframe… It’s just incredible,” Workman said. “This wasn’t hours, it was minutes. I didn’t even have half an hour stuck under that tractor.”
Simms and Horsburgh got him ready and awaiting the arriving ambulance. It was a cavalry that would arrive, as firefighters and paramedics responded, and an air ambulance found space to land not far away.
Workman would ultimately land in an Ottawa hospital, being given just enough time to go over what medications he takes daily. After that, his eyes closed and he drifted off.
For their actions, both Simms and Horsburgh were honoured with the inaugural North Dundas Mayor’s Award Tues., Dec. 10. Created by the current council in the wake of this incident, doing so was impressed upon Deputy-Mayor Al Armstrong after he received a call from Mountain detachment fire chief Ray Sherrer in the days after.
“I remember getting the call from Ray, and he told me the incredible story of selflessness, dedication, action and ability,” Armstrong said. “He thought we needed to recognize people like this, and I couldn’t have agreed more.”
Said Mayor Tony Fraser of the honour, “These two people not only saved a neighbour’s life, they also kept a family intact and ensured a life went on.”
Simms and Horsburgh received a plaque each to mark the honour.
Though he was brief in his acceptance speech, clearly choked up by not only the acknowledgement, but also by Workman’s retelling of the incident, Simms noted he was enthused by his neighbour’s recovery.
Horsburgh, meanwhile, made use of her moment at the microphone to deflect the praise from herself, if only just a little.
“I’m honoured to do this with dad at my side… It’s an honour to be recognized, but I’m also honoured to be part of this community,” she said.
The night’s parting thought came from Workman, who has largely battled back from the incident following a series of surgeries.
“After the air ambulance ride, I closed my eyes and drifted off and I didn’t open them again or return to the conscious world until June 10,” he said. “I knew it was June 10 because I had my family all around me and they wished me happy birthday. I was 71 years old that day, and I almost didn’t make it. I had the best gift imaginable – life. I can’t stress enough how important that was.”