Metrolinx hero talks about the impact of a moment’s reaction to help save drowning man’s life

We’ve brought you stories of acts of heroism on our vehicles and at our stations – saving a life and having lightning reflexes to keep everyone safe. But we don’t often talk about the cost of holding someone’s future in your hands. Here, Metrolinx senior manager of media, Anne Marie Aikins, talks to one of our staff members, who knows the story continues even after awards are given out.

After the sirens and the citations and people wanting to know what happened, comes many days of dealing with being called a hero.

It was a cool October afternoon in 2019, long before the COVID pandemic began dominating our lives, when Metrolinx employee, Andy Simone, jumped in the cold waters of Cooks Bay, located in the town of Georgina in York Region, to help save the life of a drowning stranger.

A cold rescue

Out walking his dog after a night shift, Simone had heard the terrified screams from the victim’s female companion, and Simone didn’t hesitate a moment to dive into the unknown waters in Lake Simcoe to pull the injured man’s head above water and protect him from the choppy waves until rescue crews arrived.

Emergency crews tend to a man by the water's edge.

In this image, taken by Andy Simone, a man is taken from the water by first responders. (Andy Simone photo)

Simone, a senior construction safety officer, suspected the man may have also suffered a neck or back injury so he knew the man’s life was literally in his hands in the frigid water as they awaited the arrival of their first responders. His suspicions were confirmed; after rescue crews arrived and carefully removed the man out of the water and to a nearby hospital, doctors determined the man had suffered a near fatal severe spinal cord injury when he had jumped into the water.

Simone’s actions – as described in a Governor of the Royal Life Saving Society Ontario award presented to him earlier this year – preserved a life that night.

His heroic deeds, however also led to a reaction often seen by witnesses following stressful traumatic events. Collateral damage, so to speak. For every act of heroism publically lauded, there is often a heavy toll on the lives of survivors few ever know about. There is this moment of what-ifs to relive, then many more after.

Post-traumatic stress – often heard of for victims of crime but can be often experienced by witnesses and helpers following any traumatic event—can be experienced by our most heroic.

“He’s been very courageous to not only help when people need it the most but to bravely face all the emotions these traumatic events can trigger.” – Nicole Stoker, Simone’s manager.

Although fortunate to be alive, for the man pulled from the frigid waters, it meant a long recovery from his serious injuries and many months of rehab that continue today.

Subsequently, Simone has also bravely managed through the roller coaster of his own difficult rehab as well.

The near drowning triggered an emotional price for Simone, who has spent many days dealing with what it was like to hold a life in his hands. His message to others is to jump in when called – but to also know that there is a weight that is carried even after most others have moved on.

“It is an instinct for me to help when someone needs it. Something I just don’t think about; it’s in my DNA,” Simone explained. “I don’t want to ever change that. But my message to others who live through similar experiences is to take your own time to heal your wounds as well as you never know what long buried emotions will surface.”

Image sows first responders around a man.

Rescuers tend to the man, by the water’s edge. (Andy Simone photo)

For Simone, it triggered memories of another life and death event he had experienced.

Young victims

In 2017, three Metrolinx officials were driving back to Toronto from a work site, when they saw a pileup on the QEW. With no emergency crews there as yet, the men pulled over, hopped the median and let their decades of training in health and safety take over.

They provided critical first-aid to the victims, some very young children.

One of these heroes was again Simone. As a father, he couldn’t shake the image of the injured children in the back seat of the mangled vehicle.

Image shows Andy by the rails.

Andy Simone, left, on the job, with other members of his team. Note, this image was taken prior to COVID-19 social distancing rules. (Metrolinx photo)

All these memories collided with the most recent experience and Simone needed to take some time to heal. He had the courage to speak out and take some down time for the sake of his long-term health and for his family.

“Andy has overcome a great deal during his time in recovery from both these incidents,” said Nicole Stoker, who is Simone’s manager.

“He’s been very courageous to not only help when people need it the most but to bravely face all the emotions these traumatic events can trigger.”

Simone had the full support of his Metrolinx team throughout his recovery. “We’re all very proud of him and we are very happy he is back to work with our team.”

Story by Anne Marie Aikins, Metrolinx senior manager, media.