A man’s immediate action staved off what might have led to tragedy for a family.

According to the National Weather Service, a few degrees below zero with wind speeds of just five to 10 miles per hour, wind chill can easily drop to 20 degrees below zero.

And at that temperature, frostbite and hypothermia can take effect on a human body in well under a half hour, unless the person is properly attired for extreme cold conditions.

And that’s assuming the human body in question is an adult. The person at the center of this story was certainly not clothed for extreme weather, and he was certainly not an adult, either.

Five-year-old Maddox Pierce was wearing nothing but onesie pajamas when he headed out into a frigid, snowy, and windy early morning one day in February 2021. Had it not been for a lot of luck and the immediate action taken by a snowplow driver named David Gehrke, that date in February may well have ended up chiseled into a young child’s gravestone.

Why Maddox Headed Out into the Cold

Per WISN, on that fateful February morning, young Maddox Pierce awoke before four in the morning and found himself living every small child’s nightmare: he was home all alone. Except that of course the five-year-old had not been left alone, he had simply forgotten that his teenaged aunt was babysitting him while his mother worked in the wee hours of the morning.

Not finding his mom where he expected her and not realizing his aunt was there asleep in the house, Maddox panicked and left. He planned to make his way by foot to his grandfather’s house, but being just five, he failed to realize how life-threatening the conditions he would face on the walk would be.

When Maddox emerged from his family’s townhouse, he was clad only in thin pajamas. The temperature out was well below freezing, it was snowing, and it was windy. The conditions would have been dangerous even for an able-bodied adult of sound, mature mind — for a little kid, it was very likely a death sentence.

Thankfully, when the worst of winter’s weather rears its head, that’s when David Gehrke gets to work.

Saved by a Stroke of Luck and a Quick Response

When David Gehrke climbed into his snowplow that blustery morning, the conditions were awful. Gehrke said: “It was snowing, blowing and miserable.”

He set to work on a route clearing the streets near the southeastern end of town and it was there that he came across a sight he had never expected to see: a child wandering alone in the snow.

Gehrke only spotted the boy by luck, Maddox being briefly illuminated by the lights shining off the side of the truck. But it was enough — instantly Gehrke knew this was a bad situation. He stopped the snowplow and leapt from the cab, picking up the shivering child and wrapping Maddox in his own coat.

Gehrke loaded Maddox into the truck’s cabin, cranked up the heat, and immediately called the police. When officers arrived, they found Maddox unhurt and returned the boy home after contacting his mother.

Reunited with her son, Brittany Weissenburger was shaken and emotional but in no trouble; the police determined there had been no wrongdoing of any kind, just a case of a child making an innocent mistake and being saved by luck and kindness — a kindness for which David Gehrke was formally recognized with a certificate of appreciation.

The snowplow driver hero said later that he appreciated it but hardly needed a commendation; he was just happy to know the boy was safe.