‘She saved my life’: Tennessee waitress wakes truck driver in burning truck

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waitress honored for saving trucker's life
Lebanon, Tennessee Mayor Bernie Ash (left) presents Phyllis Banfield with a certificate that made June 3, 2020 “Phyllis Banfield Day” in honor of her actions that saved the life of a trucker. Uncle Pete’s Travel Center owner Pete Norman (right) looks on. (Courtesy: Phyllis Banfield)

LEBANON, Tenn. — A series of coincidences led to a miraculous save for Phyllis Banfield, a waitress at Uncle Pete’s Travel Center on Sparta Pike in Lebanon, Tennessee.

One April morning this year, Banfield left her house earlier than usual for her shift at Uncle Pete’s and parked in a spot that wasn’t her usual spot. If she had parked where she normally did, she said, she might not have seen the fire across the road.

“I wouldn’t have seen all those people. I might have seen the fire, but I don’t know what I would have done,” she said. “I don’t know why nobody else helped. You would have thought somebody would have gone over there, but they were just watching.”

As Banfield got out of her car that morning, she saw that the hay on the back of a big rig was burning. She quickly called 911; then she dodged traffic to get across the road to help.

When she reached the rig, she realized there was a person in the cab of the burning truck.

“I went and checked on (the driver) and his truck was running, so I was beating on the door,” she said, adding that the driver was not aware that his load was on fire. “He looked out the window. It was just so fast-paced. I had to make sure he was all right, and I went to work.”

Seven minutes later, the truck and trailer were completely burned — but thanks to Banfield’s quick actions, the driver, Matt Ramsey of Rutledge, Tennessee, was safe and sound.

“I needed to check on the fire, because I had a gut feeling someone was inside,” she said. “(I couldn’t) take it for granted, that there was not somebody in there. You got to go with your gut issues. I had to make peace with myself. I had to know for sure. It would have
really bothered me if I hadn’t gone over there. He was dead to the world, asleep.”

Banfield said the fire had a big flame and, although it wasn’t very windy, the fire was escalating quickly. She said by the time she got out of her car and reached the truck the fire had gotten even bigger.

“I was on the phone with 911 the entire time,” she said. “I called them immediately when I saw the flame.”

In a story from the Wilson Post newspaper, Ramsey said, “She woke me up. I’d say she saved my life. I might have woke up. You never know.”

Banfield, who has been a waitress at Uncle Pete’s for about 23 years, said Ramsey later stopped by the truck stop and thanked her.

“We are a truck stop, so we stayed opened during the virus,” Banfield said. “We offer take-out and have fuel, but our hours were cut short. They do consider us essential workers on account of truckers fueling there and doing take-out for the drivers.”

In early June, Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash proclaimed Wednesday, June 3, as “Phyllis Banfield Day,” in honor of an everyday hero “who offered help where it was needed, gave of herself when it was needed and, as result, saved a life.”

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