Frostproof Fire Chief Presented Citizen Life Saving Award By City of Lake Wales for Saving a Truck Driver’s Life
by James Coulter
The Frostproof Fire Chief was presented an award by the City of Lake Wales saving the life of a driver.
On Tuesday evening, during the city’s monthly commission meeting, Chief Chris Velasquez of the Lake Wales Police Department and Mayor Eugene Fultz conferred the Citizen Life Saving Award to Frostproof Fire Chief Jerry Riner.
Chief Riner was given the award for his valiant effort in saving the life of a truck driver who had driven off Highway 60 and nearly crashed his vehicle into a house due to cardiac arrest.
On Oct. 21, 2021, Riner saw a car drive off the road near the intersection of Highway 60 and 9th Street. He pulled over to the side of the road where the vehicle had crashed, pulled the driver from the vehicle, and, upon discovering the diver was unresponsive and not breathing, started administering CPR until Lake Wales Police and Polk County EMS arrived, explained Chief Velasquez.
“Before the driver left the scene by ambulance, their vitals improved significantly,” Chief Velasquez said. “In response to your quick thinking and willingness to administer aid, the driver survived. We present you with our citizen’s lifesaving award to commend you for your service to our community.”
Upon accepting his award, Chief Riner gave his commendations to the City of Lake Wales for honoring him, the City of Frostproof for supporting him, and the Lake Wales Fire Department for assisting him that fateful day.
“I cannot tell you how happy I was to see them coming around the house with their equipment,” he said. “I believe Lake Wales, you should all be very proud of your fire department because they did a very good job resuscitating the man.”
Mayor Eugene Fultz later commented that, if he were ever in a similar situation to that driver, he would want someone like Chief Riner to help him out.
Chief Riner was accompanied that evening by Vice Mayor Austin Gravely, his family, and members of the City of Frostproof. As he left the meeting that evening, he was pleasantly surprised by another guest who had arrived to see him.
Kandissee Maldonado, a Lake Wales resident, had read of Chief Riner’s heroic deeds on Facebook. She wanted to meet him at that evening’s meeting and congratulate him personally, not only for saving another man’s life, but also for saving her own a long time ago.
Nearly 19 years ago, when she was only two-years-old, Kandissee was rescued from drowning in a pool by Riner and his crew, who had her transported out of the county to receive immediate care. His decision was against protocol at the time, but his fateful rescue helped change that protocol, he said.
“We knew if we took you to Winter Haven, with the water in your lungs, you probably would have perished; so the paramedics flew you out and changed their protocol because of you,” Chief Riner told Kandissee.
When the young lady approached him that evening, he immediately recognized her face. He told her that he still had a picture of her when she was a toddler, and that she looked just as much of a beautiful young lady.
“That took me totally by surprise,” Chief Riner said. “I knew that she had lived, just not to the extent of her outcome. So to come here this evening and to receive this award for helping a gentleman so he can go home to his spouse, and then this young girl seeing all of this on the internet and coming out here and acknowledging all of this after 19 years is very humbling.”
Austin Gravely, Vice Mayor of Frostproof, during the public comments portion of the meeting, addressed the mayor and city commissioners. He commended them for recognizing Chief Riner and his heroism and what such an honor meant for their small city of Frostproof.
“It meant a lot,” Gravely said. “God had him in the right place at the right time. Everything happens for a reason. Unfortunately, we don’t always understand it all. It was very good to be here tonight and see Jerry be recognized.”
Chief Riner had served Polk County Fire Rescue (PCFR) for over 25 years and has volunteered for Frostproof for more than 30 decades. However, despite his long legacy of public service, he was suspended without pay from his position at PCFR and inevitably terminated.
He was given an ultimatum: either resign from his position as the Frostproof Fire Chief and continue working as a PCFR employee, or resign from his PCFR position and continue working at Frostproof. He was previously under investigation because he allegedly violated a four- or five-year-old policy that the county has only recently started enforcing.
Despite his termination, he is reassured by his recent award that his public service is much appreciated. He has had extensive training for such rescue situations, so doing what he did came naturally to him.
“It is something I would do regardless,” he said. “I feel more grateful that the gentlemen survived and his spouse still has him in her life. With everything that goes on nowadays, people need others by their side. I feel humbled, and I appreciated Lake Wales Police Department and the Fire Department, and the City Commissioners recognizing me…In the last month, it does make me feel I am still a vital part of the community.”