Truck driver Ickroop Mangat, 23, was on the job a few months the day he became a highway hero.
Mangat was well on his way to becoming a mechanical engineer. Instead, he left school to follow his father’s footsteps – and his love of the open road – to become a truck driver.
“When I was a kid my dad would always take me to his yard. I just loved big machines and loved to be behind the wheel of big trucks,” he says. “So, I followed my passion and became a trucker like my dad.”
Last winter, while trapped in the cab of his truck alongside fellow Kriska Transportation team driver, Dave Barton, it’s likely Mangat was seriously questioning his decision to switch careers.
He and Dave had been travelling on Hwy 20 near Montreal when a flash snowstorm moved in and the drifting snow caused white-out conditions.
Ickroop was in the passenger seat when he saw Dave suddenly grip the wheel and slam the brakes – but despite his quick reaction, the truck couldn’t stop in time. With near-zero visibility, Ickroop didn’t even see the massive vehicle pileup ahead until the impact.
Both drivers were relatively unhurt from the collision, but the front of the tractor quickly caught on fire and thick, black smoke was building up in the cab. The tractor doors were crumpled inward and wouldn’t open. Dave passed Ickroop a pillow to breath into, but both men knew time was running out.
“I told myself, I’m not going to die in this truck. If I do (die), then at least they can find my body outside – so, at least my parents will see me one more time,” he says. “That’s when I told Dave, ‘follow me!”
Ickroop climbed past Dave in the driver’s seat and kicked through the door’s window. He says he doesn’t remember climbing out, but his adrenalin kicked-in and once his feet touched pavement, he implored Dave to follow his lead. Dave, a bigger man, attempted to crawl through but got stuck. That’s when Ickroop grabbed his shirt collar and helped pull him down onto the ground. But Dave landed in a pool of spilled diesel fuel flowing in the middle of the spreading fire.
“When he got up, he was on fire. His hands were on fire. His back was on fire and I think his hair was on fire too,” Ickroop recalls.
Panicked, Dave ran away from the truck with Ickroop in pursuit. The younger driver then tackled his partner and began rolling him around in the slow, putting out the flames. Dave received second and third-degree burns, but luckily, he was alive when the paramedics arrived.
Relieved his friend would make it, Ickroop finally surveyed the scene: “It was chaos. There were cars and trucks in front of us; a girl was screaming that she’s trapped in a car; there’s another car with a family and they’re trying to get out; there were other truck drivers running around, saying they lost everything … Pure chaos.”
For his actions that day, Ickroop received the prestigious Bridgestone-Ontario Trucking Association Truck Hero award at the OTA’s annual conference in Toronto. The award recognizes professional truck drivers who demonstrate courage, quick thinking and integrity in the face of an emergency.
“It takes extraordinary courage to do what Ickroop did,” says OTA president Stephen Laskowski. “His actions shine a light on all the professional drivers who put their own lives on the line to help those in need.”
Presenting the Truck Hero award to Ickroop, Justin Monaghan, National Sales Director, Bridgestone Commercial Solutions, Canada, said: “Canadian truck drivers encounter dangerous situations on the road every day. We are proud of Ickroop and grateful to know there are brave and selfless drivers like him on the road.”
Mark Seymour, president of Kriska, recalls the reaction from the office as news of the incident was trickling in. “Ickroop’s bravery during this incident is something that I think was inspiring to everybody. It’s something many of us – most of all Dave – will never forget. He is definitely a hero in our eyes.”
Today, Ickroop continues to be a long-haul driver and is pursuing his dream of becoming an owner-operator like his father. Asked to reflect on the incident, Ickroop says he has no regrets in trading a career as an engineer for life as a trucker.
“My father is a big inspiration to me. He’s the one who told me these things happen, but it shouldn’t push you away from what you want to do. I don’t enjoy what happened to me but it’s a good thing it happened in the early start. It showed me that trucking is not a game and that you should take it serious every time you are out on the road.”
Ickroop hasn’t seen Dave since the accident, but says they’ve talked occasionally about the events that day.
“I told him I’m no hero or anything. I just did what my parents taught me,” he says. “We did run away from death together, so even if we don’t talk every day, we both have each other in our hearts.”