By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: Nov. 3, 2012
The phone call from Ottawa said Gian Mameli had been nominated for the Medal of Bravery for trying to rescue a man from a burning truck in Richmond.
Would he accept the award?
Mameli fumbled a little, as he envisioned himself accepting an award for doing what he thought was the right thing.
In the end, he said yes. What he found tempting was an all-expense paid trip to Ottawa.
“I wouldn’t have done it if they had not offered me a nice trip to Ottawa,” Mameli said, laughing.
So, on Oct. 12, Mameli was honoured with a Medal of Bravery by David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, in a glittering ceremony at the Rideau Hall in Ottawa.
Mameli was one among the 44 Canadians honoured for their act of bravery.
Over dinner at White Spot recently, Mameli narrated the story that led to the call from Governor General’s office.
It was a rainy February morning of 2010 as Mameli drove back to Squamish after a meeting some friends in Richmond.
As he entered the George Massey tunnel, he went past a pick-up truck slowly putting along.
Within a few seconds, the same truck sped past his car at twice the speed of his own car.
By the time Mameli noticed the fire coming from the tail pipe, the truck had swerved and hit the wall on the other side of the tunnel.
It went up the wall and plunked down with a thud. There were plumes of smoke coming out from the tail pipe.
Mameli knew the truck could explode, but he ran towards it.
“I punched the window six or seven times, and when I reached in and grabbed the seat belt, I couldn’t find the guy,” Mameli recounted.
The driver was jammed under the pedals. Unable to rescue the driver, Mameli backed up as the truck caught fire and the plumes of smoke thickened.
Seconds later, the truck exploded.
With no emergency vehicles in sight, Mameli rushed to evacuate people stranded in the tunnel with the help of some other people.
He says he tried his best to rescue the man from the burning car.
“I never saw him, and I couldn’t save him,” he said.
“I wish it was a better story.”
The story was inspiring enough, however, for the Office of the Governor General.
As a handyman, Mameli has seen nice homes in Whistler. Still, he found the Rideau Hall impressive for its grandeur, and art collection.
“It’s a bit like going into a Canadian museum,” he said.
Mameli realises if he ever was in a bad situation, a life and death situation, it was this one.
He wouldn’t think twice to help, if he were to ever find himself in such a situation again.
“I think people are always going to help if they see someone in trouble.”