Retired Capt. Riley, of Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, recalls 2006 incident that saved a young cyclist’s life
Almost two decades have passed since retired Capt. William “Bill” Riley saved a young boy’s life by manually hoisting a car off him. Despite the passage of time, the dramatic incident remains fresh in his mind.
On Feb. 22, 2006, the crew of Hillsborough County Fire Station 7 were called to a terrible car accident in Brandon. A Toyota Camry had hit a boy riding his bicycle home from school. Tragically, the driver did not stop instantly but dragged the boy and his bike beneath the vehicle for roughly 30 feet before coming to a standstill. The 8-year-old child, trapped between the scalding muffler and hard pavement, was seriously injured and required immediate removal from beneath the car.
This story is part of Hillsborough County’s 50-for-50 Series, a historic review of some of the memorable events, dates, and people in the history of Hillsborough Fire Rescue, which was born on Aug. 27, 1973. About the Series: Hillsborough’s 50 for 50 Project Celebrates Fire Rescue Heroism, Heritage, History that show the growth, bravery, and specialized operations of Hillsborough County’s largest department.
Luckily for the boy, Riley was one of the first firefighters to arrive at the scene that day. As Riley recalls, plenty of backup was on the way. A helicopter had been called in and a heavy rescue truck was about 15 minutes out. However, the clock was ticking and the firefighters began to doubt there was time to wait for the hydraulic jack to arrive to get the child free. The young boy was going in and out of consciousness and in excruciating pain.
Riley knew something had to be done and done quickly. He crawled under the rear of the car and got in a plank position with his knees on the pavement. After centering the gas tank on his back, the 47-year-old (at the time) performed the most Herculean push up of Hillsborough County. His physical strength and determination paid off. Riley was able to manually raise the car four inches off the ground. Two other firefighters at the scene quickly pulled the boy out from underneath the car.
Though the boy suffered serious burns and broken bones, he recovered. Had he not worn a bike helmet that afternoon or had the great fortune of Riley’s quick actions, he would not have survived the accident. As for Riley, he climbed back into the firetruck and continued with his work that day. Hoisting the car did not harm him or even the shirt on his back.
Looking back at that day 17 years later, Riley is still immensely grateful for how the accident panned out. As the humble hero put it, “It’s always nice to have something good happen in your career that you can remember. …You can say, ‘That’s a great day at the office.’”