Still saving lives on his day off
SL graduate Brady Pratt rescued two girls from flaming vehicle
SARANAC LAKE — When Brady Pratt heads out on the job as a member of a United States Border Patrol special operations unit working in the Rio Grande Valley, he expects to come across some harrowing situations. Along with his work dog Baska, Pratt knows that saving lives along the Texas-Mexico border is sometimes just part of another day on the job.
But on his days off, Pratt is perfectly happy spending time with his family. Rescues and law enforcement are most likely the farthest thing from his mind. That, however, wasn’t the case a week ago for Pratt, who grew up in Bloomingdale and graduated from Saranac Lake in 2004. As a Red Storm athlete, Pratt was a varsity standout in football, hockey and baseball and was inducted into the high school’s athletic hall of fame.
On Sunday, Dec. 20, Pratt, his wife Jolissa and their 10-month-old son Brady Jr. were on a 150-mile road trip, driving along a two-lane highway from their home in McAllen, Texas to visit family and pick up some furniture in Corpus Christi. Along the way, they came across a fatal two-vehicle, head-on collision that had recently taken place. Five people were involved in the collision, which left both vehicles in flames. Three adults were killed, and the other two, a 1-year-old and an 8-year-old girl, were saved from certain death as Pratt rescued them from back seat of the burning vehicle.
Pratt, who is 35 and has a dozen years of service combined with the border patrol and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, spoke with the Enterprise Sunday about the incident, which he said really shook him up for about 24 hours after it occurred.
Pratt is a member of Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue, or BORSTAR. He works a K-9 patrol with his four-year-old dog. He’s also an EMT and a diver that works the Rio Grande. His wife is a nurse, and on their trip, Pratt said she was the first to notice the burning wreck ahead. A report in the Monitor, a newspaper serving the McAllen area, said the single driver who caused the collision was reported to be traveling east on FM 655 at an unsafe speed and passing multiple vehicles when it struck the other vehicle, which was traveling west with two females up front and the young children in the back.
The collision sent both vehicles off the road and into a field, and fortunately, Pratt was able to be of help.
“I’m just glad I was able to help out for sure,” Pratt said. “I’ve seen death, but this time was really different. It’s a day off, you’re on a trip with your family, it’s something you don’t expect. The vehicle was on fire, it appeared there were people in there, and my wife said ‘You have to help.'”
When he arrived on the scene, Pratt said there were numerous onlookers attempting to help, including somebody who had smashed the back window of the vehicle the girls were trapped in and another person who had a golf club. But nobody attempted to get to the young passengers, so without thinking, Pratt entered the destroyed vehicle, which was burning under the hood and filling up with smoke.
“I just reacted. I wasn’t scared,” Pratt said. “I think the team I’m on — our special ops team — we get some really good training, and my brain just took over and told me what to do.”
Pratt said it was shocking to see the youngsters in the back were “really calm,” and said the 8-year-old told him her leg was broken. Working in the fiery wreck, Pratt removed the 1-year-old from the car seat and then got the older girl out. The two girls are cousins.
The women up front, ages 31 and 23, were sisters. The 1-year-old’s mother was in the passenger seat. The man driving the other vehicle, which was completely in flames when Pratt arrived, was also dead at the scene.
“I’m alright now,” Pratt said Sunday, a full week after coming upon the crash. “I’ve recovered a lot of vehicles in the water, I’ve saved people from drowning, but I’ve never really had to do something like that. On a day off with my family, it certainly isn’t something I expected. I was really bothered for a day. What if that was me and my kids in there? You just never know. I’m okay now, but that was a tough one.”
There obviously was great sadness with the deaths, but Pratt did receive some heartening news. He met the 8-year-old’s grandfather at the crash site, and on Christmas Day, he exchanged texts with the man. The 8-year-old had been taken care of and he said the 1-year-old was in a brace, but is expected to be okay.
Growing up in the cold North Country, Pratt said he’s happy in Texas, he enjoys his job, and the warmer climate is great.
“It’s 82 and blue here, family life is great, and I really like my job,” said Pratt, who was a standout football, hockey and baseball player for the Red Storm. “I’m pretty athletic, I was in high school, and I’m kind of putting that to work.
“I don’t miss the cold at all, but I do miss Saranac Lake,” he added. “I miss being able to walk into Mobil and knowing everybody in there. It’s just that small town camaraderie where everybody looks out for each other, where everyone is ready to help each other out.”