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First responders braved dangerous terrain to rescue driver who had been trapped 6 days

First responders faced challenges in rescuing man trapped in truck for six days
First responders faced challenges in rescuing man trapped in truck for six days 02:34

PORTAGE, Ind. (CBS) -- We've been talking about the story all week – how a man survived six days pinned inside his truck underneath Interstate 94 in Northwest Indiana.

On Thursday, first responders filled us in on the chaos and conditions they encountered while trying to free Matt Reum from his vehicle.

CBS 2's Lauren Victory climbed into the spot in Salt Creek near Portage, Indiana, where Reum was trapped in his truck. It is along the rushing creek, down a ravine, and past several trees – all tricky terrain.

New pictures show rescue of man found trapped in truck under Indiana bridge 01:55

Thus, first responders were preparing for the worst when they got the call of the driver who had fallen from the I-94 bridge.

Photos supplied by the Portage Fire Department show the conditions first responders were under on Tuesday afternoon as they went to the scene – loose rocks, a steep slope, and darkness quickly approaching.

Portage Fire Department
Portage Fire Department
Portage Fire Department
Portage Fire Department

The firefighters' mission was to rescue Reum, who was inside a pickup truck that had been smashed to pieces. The truck had been on westbound I-94, and fell a great distance.

Portage firefighters go through the motions often for rescues in the area, as cars crash along the nearby interstate weekly. But what they encountered along Salt Creek was like nothing before.

"And I saw a gentleman looking back at me, and my first thought was, one, I can't believe that he survived the crash, and then two was, I knew we were going to have a long extrication process," said Portage fire Lt. Ross Steffel.

The extrication was sure to be a long process because of extreme damage to Reum's pickup truck – and because of those loose rocks and that steep incline that were difficult to navigate while carrying heavy equipment.

"As we were cutting him out, guys were clearing the path with chainsaws," said Portage master firefighter-paramedic Jordan Bucy.

Portage Fire Department
Portage Fire Department
Portage Fire Department
Portage Fire Department

The controlled chaos did not end when the Portage firefighters pried off the doors of the Ram 1500 pickup truck, which could not be opened. Even more tools were needed.

"We were able to see that the dash was actually on his legs, pinning him in there,' Bucy said.

The Portage Fire Department said it took over an hour to get the 27-year-old Reum out.

Reum had been stuck underneath the interstate for six days – until he was discovered Tuesday afternoon by fishermen Mario Garcia and Nivardo Delatorre, who had come to the creek to find a good fishing spot and just happened upon the wrecked truck.

Portage Fire Department
Portage Fire Department
Portage Fire Department
Portage Fire Department

Reum told his rescuers how he made it nearly a week in the wild.

"There was a drainpipe right above him, so there was rainwater coming down when it rained - and he would use his shirt to filter it while he drank it," said Portage firefighter-paramedic Zachary Swets, "and then he also used the airbags that had deployed as blankets when he would get cold, to stay warm and just try and stay alive."

Reum was apparently was documenting his survival.

"As soon as I came up on him, he gave me his journal," said Swets.

The rescuers said Reum stayed amazingly calm – and it helped the firefighters themselves keep it together.

"We were there with him for over an hour," said Steffel, "and throughout the period, he was smiling, laughing, making jokes."

Reum was airlifted to Memorial Hospital in South Bend – where friends snapped a picture of him smiling with a thumbs-up. His left leg was amputated below the knee on Wednesday.

Matt Reum via GoFundMe

Reum has now been upgraded from critical to serious condition, according to the hospital.

Portage firefighters still can't believe Reum survived the crash, and then made it six days trapped in his truck out in the woods. They said the thumbs-up picture made them very happy.

"It felt good, to know that he made it to the destination," said Portage firefighter-paramedic Mike Durak.

Portage Fire Department
Portage Fire Department
Portage Fire Department

Before being taken to the hospital, Reum got an IV on the scene to help with his hydration. Something else firefighters will remember most is Reum's repeated request for a Big Mac.

Friends started an online fundraiser for Reum. It has exceeded $57,000, as people around the country hear about Reum's fascinating story.

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