Jason Maxwell was in his office on Seattle’s Harbor Island on Aug. 13, 2018, when he got a phone call from a friend who worked across the Duwamish Waterway at Terminal 30. It looked, the friend said, like someone was in the water.
Maxwell went outside and saw arms waving near a cargo ship.
“I quickly looked around and saw he was struggling,” Maxwell said. “I looked to my left and right and saw nobody was there.”
So, Maxwell ditched his shoes and jumped. He swam about 150 yards through 59-degree water to reach the man, who by then had sunk 5 to 10 feet below the surface in an area where the water is about 50 feet deep.
Maxwell was one of two Washington state residents who were awarded the Carnegie Medal on Monday for their bravery. The other, Heather Zabrowski, of Olympia, saved a man from a burning car.
The award is given in the United States and Canada by the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission to highlight individual acts of selflessness in which people “in peaceful vocations” have risked their lives “to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others,” according to the commission.
The drowning man, who was part of the cargo ship’s crew, had on bright orange coveralls. Maxwell grabbed the garment and pulled him to the surface, dragging him about 75 feet to a life ring that had been thrown into the bay. A diving salvage boat hauled them both out of the water.
The man Maxwell rescued survived. But Maxwell never had a chance to speak with him. He was still unconscious when he was rushed to a hospital, and once he recovered, he returned to his home outside the United States, Maxwell said.
Maxwell, who had recently become a father, said Monday that it felt like an eternity before he jumped in, although he was told by others that he didn’t hesitate to jump into the chilly water.
“I guess I didn’t hesitate,” he said. “I think that, if I didn’t go when I did, he wouldn’t have survived.”
In July 2018, 29-year-old Heather Zabrowski of Olympia saw a burning car in a ditch beside the road. Dry grass around and beneath the car was also ablaze, and the 67-year-old driver was slumped over the wheel.
Zabrowski opened the driver’s door, reached across the man to unbuckle his seat belt and pulled the man — who was too heavy for her to lift — out onto the ground before flames engulfed the back of the car and spread to its interior.
A bystander helped Zabrowski carry the man away from the car. The driver was unburned.
The Carnegie Hero awards were created in 1904 by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Since then, 10,117 medals have been handed out, 174 to people from Washington state. Maxwell and Zabrowski were among the 16 Americans and three Canadians recognized Monday.
This isn’t the first time Maxwell has been recognized for his good deed. Shortly after the incident, the Seattle Fire Department’s Rescue One dive team awarded Maxwell its unit challenge coin, which is rarely used to honor a civilian hero.