As the University of Tennessee Health Science Center celebrated its annual Employee Appreciation Day on Sept. 20, two employees were commended for a recent act of heroism.

Will Johnson, a custodial supervisor, and Rhonda Jones, a senior custodian, were driving to the Facilities Administration Building off East Street on the morning of September 16 to get fitted for new uniforms, when they witnessed a car wreck on Union Avenue. Shortly after, they noticed one of the cars involved in the accident catch on fire with a woman trapped inside.

UTHSC Celebrate

Will Johnson and Rhonda Jones are recognized on stage at Employee Appreciation Day by UTHSC Executive Vice Chancellor and COO Dr. Ken Brown, UTHSC Chancellor Dr. Steve Schwab, and Interim UT President Randy Boyd. 

“I said, ‘We need to get her out immediately. This car is on fire,’ ” Johnson said.

Instinct kicked in, and Johnson and Jones reacted immediately. They quickly got the woman out of the car.

“It was someone in stress that needed help, so I just reacted,” Johnson said. “I asked Mrs. Jones to catch her feet. I had the upper part of her body and we took her out of the car and we laid her on the curb.”

Shortly after the women’s car burst into flames, and severely burned one of the vehicles involved in the crash, which Johnson described as “blazing.”

An ambulance came to take the women, who was in and out of consciousness, for treatment.

“If a person needs help, I will do it,” Johnson said. He has been at UTHSC for 29 years and says his favorite things about working at the university are meeting new people, the benefits, and the good work environment.

For going above and beyond their duties as custodial staff, Johnson and Jones were recognized in front of the entire campus community and each received spot-bonus checks of $1,000.

“To me, it wasn’t to be a hero or anything like that,” Johnson said. “If I had to do it all over again, I would react. I don’t want to see anyone burn up. This lady was not able to get out, she was having chest pains. I was just glad to be able to be at the right place, at the right time.”

“This was a case of the unsung heroes who daily serve us here at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, and who often go unnoticed and underappreciated,” said Anthony Berryhill, UTHSC Chief of Campus Police. “I am so proud to recognize two individuals that reacted swiftly and without the desire of accolades. These individuals who placed the safety of another before their own not realizing their action potentially saved the life of a young woman.”

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