November 4, 2010 in Washington Voices

Red Cross honoring heroes among us

Spokane Valley boy and military dog among those recognized
By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photo

Five-year-old Braxton Ruetsch, left, is pictured with his father, Phil Ruetsch and sister, Caitlynn, 3. Braxton is being honored by the local chapter of the American Red Cross as a Hometown Hero. He summoned help after a golf cart carrying the three of them flipped, pinning his father under it.
(Full-size photo)

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

On Wednesday, the Inland Northwest Chapter of the American Red Cross will host the annual Hometown Heroes Luncheon at Northern Quest Resort and Casino to honor a few of them. Each year the organization recognizes individuals and organizations that have made a positive impact in the community.

Among this year’s list of 21 honorees: a fifth-grader who raised more than $5,000 for Inland Northwest Honor Flight, a military dog who has survived four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Spokane Valley 5-year-old Braxton Ruetsch.

“You guys can just call me superhero,” Braxton said, when he was told of the pending award.

Last September, Braxton, his father, Phil Ruetsch, and sister, Caitlynn, 3, were riding in a golf cart, in the woods near Priest Lake during a camping trip. When the cart overturned, pinning Phil Ruetsch’s leg beneath it, Braxton summoned help. “I runned and saved Daddy,” the kindergartner said.

The family regularly visits Priest Lake. “We take the golf cart out all the time,” Phil Ruetsch said. But this excursion proved problematic. “Braxton grabbed the wheel and I over-corrected.” Ruetsch had Caitlynn on his lap. When he knew the cart was going to topple, he threw his daughter clear and grabbed Braxton.

As the dust cleared, Caitlynn was crying and Phil Ruetsch knew he was badly hurt. However, Braxton was unharmed. “I didn’t even cry,” he said. “That golf cart didn’t go very fast.”

Caitlynn just had bumps and bruises, but the accident terrified her. “I screamed very loud,” she said. Her brother nodded and plugged his ears at the memory.

Ruetsch hollered, too. The accident left him with an injured knee and a fractured ankle. When no one responded, he knew he’d have to rely on Braxton. He asked his son if he could find his way back to the campsite and get help. Braxton assured him that he could.

“I wasn’t scared,” Braxton asserted. “I just followed the path on the road.” He saw his uncle and said, “My daddy’s hurt! The golf cart fell on him!”

He led his uncle back to the accident site. His uncle worried that he wouldn’t be able to lift the cart without help, so once again, Braxton set off for the campsite.

His mother, Candace Ruetsch, heard him before she saw him. “Mom! Mom! Daddy crashed and he’s really hurt!” he yelled. As the adults prepared to rescue Ruetsch, Braxton’s uncle returned with Phil and Caitlynn.

The family camping trip ended with a visit to the hospital where Phil was treated and released.

Another hero being honored by the Red Cross happened to be in the right place at the right time. Michael Mears and his daughter, Hannah, were walking across the Post Street Bridge in March when they saw a woman leaning over the railing, in obvious distress.

“I asked her if she was OK,” Mears recalled. “And she told me she was going to jump off the bridge.” Horrified, Mears told the distraught woman he was going to call 911 and get help.

“She said, ‘No! Don’t do that!’ ” Mears said. Worried that he might have to grab the would-be jumper, he instructed his daughter to sit on the sidewalk while he pleaded with the woman to back away from the railing.

Instead she began to climb it.

Mears dialed 911. “I just started talking to her,” he said. “I told her my daughter and I had just had breakfast at Frank’s Diner and that I’d be happy to buy her breakfast. I told her she didn’t have to do this. I said, ‘Look at the sun. It’s a beautiful day.’ ”

He paused, his eyes filling with tears, as he recalled her adamant insistence that jumping was something she “had to do.”

So, he continued speaking to her. “I said, ‘Don’t do this. Look at my daughter. Please don’t do this in front of her.’ ”

As the woman swung her leg over the railing, police officers arrived. Mears kept talking to her, and an officer was able to pull her to safety.

“There’s a reason we walked across the bridge on that morning,” Mears said. “I’d like to think anyone would have done the same thing.”

Sometimes it’s hard to spot the heroes among us. That’s why Megan Snow of the Red Cross said the organization delights in shining the spotlight on some unsung heroes. “We like to take the opportunity to celebrate individuals who made a choice to step up and make a difference.”

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