Steve Giuffrida said he takes his dirt bike out whenever there is a storm.
“I ride along U.S. 90 in case anyone needs help,” he said.
Just before noon on July 14, as Hurricane Barry was leaving the Teche Area, Giuffrida fired up his bike and traced his usual route.
“I was actually heading the other way, toward Lafayette,” he said. “I saw one car in the water, so I stopped and checked on them and they said they were OK. That’s when I saw the van in the water.”
The vehicle was submerged in water off U.S. 90 near the Iberia-St. Martin parish line in the vicinity of the National Oilwell Varco building. Giuffrida, a Broussard resident, rode up on the white Arc of Acadiana van that had left the roadway and was sinking into the 10-foot deep water along the side of the highway.
“I got down in the water and started helping them,” he said. “The driver in the van was trying to get everyone set so they could be rescued. I helped her get things calmed down.”
Giuffrida was one of three civilians honored with the Iberia Parish Fire District’s Medal of Valor Thursday afternoon in a ceremony at the district’s training facility on Darnall Road. Fire Chief Guy Bonin said that the award was reserved for members of a fire department, but that “these people will always be part of our fire department,” for their help in rescuing eight people with disabilities who were being transported when the van left the roadway.
“There were hundreds of vehicles that passed that van on the highway and service road,” Bonin said. “These three people stopped and gave assistance.”
Maegan Guilbeau, another civilian who stopped to help, also was given the Medal of Valor. A third person, Justin Louviere, was not able to attend the ceremony.
There were eight adults with disabilities aboard the bus being transferred to a safer location as Hurricane Barry’s wind and rain began to subside, including one who was wheelchair bound. When firefighters arrived shortly after Bonin, they began the dangerous rescue as the bus was being filled with water by the minute.
Bonin also presented the award to 11 of his captains and firefighters, including Firefighter Teddy Miller, a volunteer from the Coteau Volunteer Fire Department.
“These volunteers answer calls, dropping everything to respond just like our full-time firefighters,” Bonin said. “You know how much they are paid? Zero.”
The other 10 firefighters receiving the award were Deputy Chief Mike Vincent, Training Chief Brett Doumit, Capt. Chris Perkins, Capt. Brandon Abshire, Firefighter Gage Turner, Firefighter Rik Hernandez, Firefighter Bob Thongsavath, Firefighter Taylor Champagne, Firefighter Lance Langlinais and Firefighter Tyson Chastant.
Iberia Parish President Larry Richard was on hand to give Bonin the award for his part in the rescue.
The occupants of the bus were also on hand, shaking hands with the firefighters and others who helped to safely extricate them from the vehicle.
The firefighters were outside the bus in chest-deep, diesel-soaked water awaiting to assist each passenger. The rescuees had to be taken through the rear bus window because the other parts of the vehicle were already under water.