Gary Underwood, a dedicated security guard with more than two decades of service at the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service Headquarters, was recently commended as a local hero.
His compassionate actions came to light when he assisted Carol McDonald, a grandmother of two, who found herself in distress when her mobility scooter broke down on a busy road in Sunderland.
It was during the start of his shift that Gary, on his way to work, was alerted by a concerned colleague who noticed Carol’s plight on Nissan Way, near the A1231. Responding swiftly, Gary approached the 49-year-old woman and discovered that her scooter and phone had both lost power, leaving her stranded after becoming disoriented while attempting to find her way home.
With empathy in his heart, the kind-hearted security guard escorted Carol to the premises of TWFRS headquarters. There, he arranged for her safe transportation back home, ensuring her well-being and alleviating the challenging situation she had encountered.
This week, they have been reunited in Washington where Gary and Carol met up with Deputy Chief Fire Officer Peter Heath to share their experiences.
“It can be a very busy road – I just wanted to make sure she [Carol] was safe,” said Gary, aged 60, of Hebburn.
Gary, originally from Jarrow, works for the Support Services Group (SSG) – which has a regional office in Sunderland. He is the husband to Pauline. The couple have recently celebrated 40 years of marriage, and they have three children and four grandchildren.
The incident occurred on the evening of Sunday 23 April, as Gary was about to start his usual nightshift at the Fire Service’s training centre in Barmston Mere.
“We were doing our security shift handover when someone mentioned a lady on a mobility scooter was seen to be upset near the building’s back gates. So I immediately went out to see if I could help in any way,” said Gary.
He added: “When I got to Carol she was understandably distressed and panicking. She explained that she’d become lost and disorientated after taking a wrong turn.
“Both her scooter and mobile phone had subsequently run out of charge at the same time so she couldn’t call her family for help and was stranded at the side of the road.”
Gary towed Carol and the scooter back to the SHQ building where he was able to put the mobility vehicle on charge and offer Carol a hot drink. She then took the opportunity to call her worried family for them to pick her up.
Gary concluded: “I was thankful that everything worked out in the end, as Carol is a nice lady who spoke fondly of her children and grandchildren. I was glad to help in any way that I could, and to see that the incident had a happy ending.”
Carol, aged 49, lives in Town End Farm, Sunderland, with her partner Martin Brown. They have five children together – Emma, Callum, Connor, Laura and Clayton…and two grandchildren.
“If it wasn’t for Gary I don’t know what could’ve happened to me!” said Carol.
The two-hour ordeal, from start to finish, began when Carol scooted from her home to her daughter’s place of work in Washington. She had partially charged up her scooter during a catch-up cuppa and then started her journey back to Sunderland.
“I didn’t know what to do when the scooter ran out of charge after I’d taken a wrong turn. To be honest, I started to panic when I realised I couldn’t contact my family as my mobile phone had also died,” said Carol.
She added: “I was really upset as I didn’t know what to do. It was freezing by the roadside as the evening had started to settle in. Fortunately, a couple of motorists had stopped to ask if I was okay, and it was one of them who kindly notified Gary.
“It was a definite sense of relief when Gary came over to help me as I didn’t know how I was going to get out of the worrying situation.
“In this day and age it’s lovely to know that people like Gary are still out there who care for others and are willing to go over and above the call of duty.”
Deputy Chief Fire Officer, Peter Heath, said:
“We are so pleased to hear that Carol is safely back with her family after the kind hearted gesture made by Gary.
“Gary is a friendly face that greets fire service staff and visitors to our Service Headquarters, and the compassion and warmth he has shown to Carol and her family should be greatly applauded.”
SSG’s Chief Executive Officer, Ahmad Rafique, expressed his admiration:
“Gary’s action beautifully illustrates how each of us, through deeds both grand and modest, can impact the lives of others, particularly while on duty. I am truly moved by Gary’s embodiment of integrity and compassion and trust that his actions will serve as an impetus for everyone.
“Our profound gratitude and pride for Gary Underwood are immense. Gary, your benevolence, and unwavering dedication to service deserves our resounding applause. Thank you for being such an inspiring beacon for us all.”
Carol was reunited with her family on the night in question when her daughter picked her up after her unexpected evening ordeal.