Pisgah Driver Wins PacLease Award For Safe Driving, Rescue Effort

June 1, 1998
John Ferguson, a Pisgah Partners LP driver, received the PacLease 1997 Driver of the Year award for his excellent driving record and for rescuing a Mississippi

John Ferguson, a Pisgah Partners LP driver, received the PacLease 1997 Driver of the Year award for his excellent driving record and for rescuing a Mississippi deputy sheriff from a wrecked flaming patrol car with ricocheting ammunition.

"Yeah, I'd do it again," says the quiet-spoken, 56-year-old Ferguson about the rescue. At the same time, he is anxious to give credit to his colleague, Randy Westberry, 43, who also performed heroic action at the scene. They are employees of Pisgah Partners in Sand Hill, Mississippi, which produces and distributes liquefied carbon dioxide.

The two men pulled Tim Covington, Rankin County deputy sheriff, from his patrol car after the vehicle slammed into a tree a few yards from the Pisgah facility near Jackson, Mississippi.

"I had come into the office just off a night run," says Ferguson. "It was pretty late at night, and I had put my truck on the scale. Randy came running in and said a deputy had wrecked his car right down the road, and it was on fire. I called 911 and the sheriff's office while Randy grabbed a fire extinguisher.

"We took off down there. When we got up to the car, we could see that the grass underneath it was on fire, and Tim was pinned in the car. Randy tried to put out the fire, but it was too late. The flames spread up into the car and everything was burning. The driver's door was jammed, so we tried to pull Tim out of the passenger's side, but his leg was wedged up under the dash.

"I was afraid of the guns and ammunition in the car. I knew that fire and gunpowder don't mix. I started looking around when I saw a reflection of something that turned out to be his pistol. Well, I just grabbed it and threw it out of the car, but I couldn't find the ammunition or the shotguns.

"Randy was pulling on Tim and I was trying to help. Somehow, we got Tim loose and dragged him out of the car and over to the side, and that's when the car exploded into flames and the ammunition started going off. It kept getting hotter and hotter. Another minute or two and Tim would have been a goner."

While the two men watched the car become engulfed in flames, fire department, rescue, and law enforcement officials arrived at the scene. The deputy was taken to a hospital where he was treated for a broken leg, cuts, and bruises. Today, he is back on the job. Ferguson's reaction to the emergency, coupled with his safe driving record, brought the long-time trucker to the attention of Jeff Keys, vice-president of PacLease in Jackson, who made the driver-of-the-year nomination.

"He has an exemplary record in accident-free miles and has driven a variety of vehicles over the years," says Keys. "To win the award requires an excellent driving record. Community service involvement is weighed as well. Added to those things is the fact that he and a co-driver risked their lives to rescue another person."

Ferguson's driving experience and safety record are appreciated by Pisgah's distribution manager in Mississippi, Robert Roden. "John is a role model for our younger drivers," says Roden. "He takes time to do everything right and even helps train our new drivers. John is a real asset to our company."

Ferguson joined Pisgah in 1994 after returning to his home state of Mississippi from Illinois where he had worked for several carriers. "The winters got me. It seemed like I was always driving in a blizzard," he says.

He began his driving career when he graduated from high school in 1960. "I was willing to do anything to make some money," says Ferguson. "I had been driving since I was big enough to get up on our farm tractor."

His first job was driving a straight truck to deliver groceries to restaurants and schools. He was 18 years old. "I thought I was really something," he says. "It was a thrill, driving a truck and making some money. After that, I just kept on trucking."

Eventually, he was trained to drive a White truck with a 185-hp Cummins engine. "It was a little bitty baby, geared low. It ran about 45 to 50 miles per hour."

In 1965, he moved to Illinois. "The money was so much better," he says. "I was just overwhelmed."

Having graduated to driving tractor-trailer rigs, he hauled bulk cement, liquid chemicals, petroleum products, and printing ink. One job led to hauling carbolic acid to an ammunition plant.

Upon his return to Mississippi, he heard about Pisgah Partners and applied for a job. "They put me in a truck that day with another driver," he says. "I more or less drive local." He figures he covers about 80,000 to 90,000 miles per year. PacLease calculates that he has driven at least four million accident-free miles in his career.

"It's not just the physical, but the mental part," he says. "I really have to stay cool with some of the drivers that are on the road today. It's much more dangerous than it was when I first started driving trucks. There is so much more traffic on the road - more trucks, more cars, and wider highways with more lanes.

"If the sun is shining, people think they can drive 80 or 90 miles per hour. All the traffic is moving fast. Everyone is in a hurry."

Ferguson attributes his safe driving record to constant vigilance at the wheel and knowing the capabilities of the vehicle being driven. "You really have to watch around you. I try to drive ahead of myself, seeing far enough ahead of my speed that I have time to react. I watch the other drivers to anticipate their movements. There's always that blind spot to be aware of, so glancing into the mirror every few seconds is really important. That way, the vehicle won't be there without you knowing it.

"The other thing that is essential is knowing your truck. I prefer driving the same truck as much as possible, so that you know how an 80,000-pound rig handles, especially on slippery roads. You know how hard to step on the brakes before they lock up. Experience is the best teacher."

On most trips, Ferguson drives a Kenworth T800 conventional tractor. Pisgah leases 12 Kenworth tractors from PacLease that are equipped with Caterpillar and Cummins engines. The tractors pull 5,900-gallon Lubbock Tank & Trailer Inc tanks for the plant's 700 tons per day of liquid gas production.

About the only difficulty Ferguson encounters loading and unloading cargo is opening and closing valves, he says. The gas freezes the valve hardware and complicates the use of hoses. "There are about 300 pounds of pressure to worry about."

Bob Southern, director of franchise operations for Paccar Leasing Corporation (PLC), parent of PacLease, says Ferguson's accomplishments on the road alone earned him the award. However, the events surrounding the Mississippi accident were especially important in making the decision.

The PacLease award was established by PLC to promote safety, performance, and community service among the operators of the leased Peterbilt and Kenworth vehicles in North America. Nominations are made by PacLease franchises. Each franchise can nominate one driver per quarter.

Drivers must work for (or be a leased driver of) a full-service PacLease customer; have driven at least one million miles without a preventable accident or have 25,000 hours with no preventable accident; and possess a three-year motor vehicle record that is clear of any moving traffic violations or compliance violations.

Nominees are reviewed by a committee composed of the PacLease Executive Committee chairman; two PLC area managers; the PLC risk manager; and the PLC director of services and administration.

In addition to the core criteria, the committee evaluates nominees on the condition and care of PacLease equipment, fuel economy and performance, and community service. At times, acts of heroism such as Ferguson's, or unusual service to the trucking industry have been considered as well. The winner is honored at the company's annual meeting. Ferguson received the honor last year in October in Dallas. Soon afterwards, he was climbing into the Kenworth to use the driving skills that have stood the test of years on the road.