If you ask John O’Connor, he’s nobody’s hero. As a longtime Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) employee who loves his job and his family, his only goal every day is to do the best job possible.
But after he rescued a man who fell onto the tracks just moments before a train was pulling into the Oakland, California, Coliseum BART station this month, O’Connor has been getting a hero’s welcome everywhere he goes.
The story went viral instantly, and both the Oakland Raiders and the University of California, Berkeley, football team honored O’Connor at their home games during the same week.
O’Connor admits that, as a transportation supervisor who mainly works behind the scenes, all the attention is a bit overwhelming. But in his humble manner, he said that he hopes his heroic effort inspires others to pay it forward.
“I just feel blessed to be using this opportunity to lift up my platform,” said O’Connor, a member of AFSCME Local 3993 (Council 57), “which is to spread positivity.”
On the day of the incident, O'Connor was at the Coliseum station keeping an eye on the crowd following the Oakland Raiders-Detroit Lions game when the man, who was intoxicated, stumbled and fell onto the tracks as a train was approaching, according to BART.
Surveillance video released by BART showed O'Connor, who happened to be standing feet away on the platform, lunging for the man and pulling him to safety just in the nick of time.
"I was just fortunate that God put me there and he got to see another day," O'Connor said at a press conference. "There was no time to really make a decision. I just looked and it just happened."
When asked how he feels to be called a hero, O’Connor said that BART employees are used to helping riders in times of crisis. In fact, they get trained daily on safety procedures, so it is no surprise that O’Connor, who has been working at BART for 24 years, was able to react so swiftly.
“John is a fine example of the hardworking supervisors at BART that, with their many years of experience and dedication to public service, keep our riders and employees safe every day,” said Local 3993 President Sal Cruz.
Even after O’Connor was put on the Jumbotron and given a standing ovation by thousands of fans at the Cal-Washington State game, he said he still believed the real heroes are the police officers, firefighters and first responders who put their lives on the line every day at work.
Before he made his way back to his seat during the game, he made sure to shake every police officer and first responder’s hand.
“I just want to spread a positive message,” O’Connor said. “Each one, reach one.”