Man saved 70-year-old from burning car

Andrew Rosenthal, The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.
·3 min read

Apr. 4—RAPID CITY — Derek Bissell didn't think much of the day for months.

Then Bissell got a call from the Michigan State Police one Wednesday morning, informing him officers wanted to award him with the department's Distinguished Citizen Award for his acts to save the life of a man in his 70s from a burning car last August.

The man, which MSP did not identify, did not sustain any injuries from the incident because of Bissell's actions.

Bissell, who's 43 and lives in Kingsley, works as a lease operator in the oil industry and was on the way to one of his production facilities Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020. Upon arrival he found a vehicle in the ditch on Morrison Road in Clearwater Township, also not far from the well he was traveling to service.

When Bissell parked his car next to the 2005 Mazda, the car was on fire.

"He kind of struggled with me and wanted me to hook a strap up to his car and pull him out, which I did not," Bissell said. "There was such a blank look in his eye. He didn't know where he was at, who he was, or what was going on."

Bissell reached into the car and threw the man over his shoulders to run 20-feet away from the burning car and onto the tailgate of his truck. Bissell estimated that from the time he saw the burning car to the time the man was out of the vehicle, it had to have been just one minute.

"This gentleman didn't even know he was on fire, he had no clue," Bissell said. "That's why I really wasn't up for negotiation with him. He was coming out of that car."

Bissell attempted to use his own fire extinguisher, but the fire got to be more than what he could handle and authorities arrived on the scene. The vehicle was totaled and an ambulance took the man to Kalkaska Memorial Hospital.

Because he was not a family member, Bissell never got the man's name or phone number. After work he attempted to take a trip to the hospital but they couldn't give him any information.

He called the MSP trooper who said he didn't have a whole lot of information other than the man did not have a scratch on him. The trooper said the man suffered from dementia as well.

"He was still in the hospital and they were trying to do a mental evaluation on him," Bissell said. "And that was the last thing I that I ever heard from him.

"He will never remember me the rest of his life because of his of his illness, but I'll never forget him. And as long as I just bought him a little bit more time with his family, then that's all I care about."

Bissell hopes he did what others would have done.

"I'm nobody special," he said.

The Michigan State Police Post out of Houghton Lake awarded Bissell with its Distinguished Citizen award after an officer had called his parents and told him officers were trying to get in contact with him.

The award recognizes people who assist troopers in any way that "tends to physically endanger" the person. That includes extraordinary actions taken to protect life or property.

"It's humbling," Bissell said. "It never really hit me, what I did, until way after the fact ... things kind of started to settle down for me, so it kind of hit me that I did something good."

Follow Andrew Rosenthal on Twitter @ByAndrewR