Pulling a Fellow from a Burning Wreck

I need to get some thoughts down while they’re still fresh enough for me to remember.

The other night I was working on some material for Samsung’s Family Story service when I heard some loud, dull thudding noises. I figured that maybe a car in the parking lot adjacent to where we live had hit a tree or something. A moment later, the power flickered and my computer went off.

I put on my shoes, grabbed my cigarettes, and went outside on the porch then hopped over the railing and climbed down. I lit up my cigarette and began walking up the driveway towards the road where I could see other people turning left. I began to run up the driveway to follow and see what had happened.

Turning west on Malvern Road, I could see a fire off a bit over a hundred meters or so. I ran towards it. As I got closer, I could see a large crowd had gathered near an accident scene.

A telephone pole had been broken clear off at the base, but I couldn’t rightly see where the telephone pole had originally come from. It had fallen over by a compact car and tree. Between the tree and brick wall beside it was a mangled white sedan (I couldn’t tell the make or model) that was on fire.

As I arrived at the scene, I walked closer figuring that with the large crowd there, and me arriving what I thought to be rather late, that everyone in the accident had already gotten out of the cars and were somewhere around. I looked around, but couldn’t tell as it was quite dark. The power had been knocked out by the telephone pole being snapped at the base, so there were no street lamps, and tree cover only added to the darkness. The only light was the blazing wreckage of a totaled car.

I then heard a voice screaming, “Help! Help!” A couple people were near the burning wreck at this point. Other voices I could hear were a woman screaming to not step on the tram tracks (the telephone pole had electrical wires cut and on the ground), and perhaps the same woman screaming that the car was going to explode.

I thought to myself, “Hold on, am I really going to just stand by here and watch a person burn to death?” My head quickly filled with numerous thoughts.

“What if you try to help, but get sued for it? You can’t afford a lawsuit.”

“What if the car blows up and you get hurt or killed? Your daughter will have no father, or your wife will have to take care of you and your daughter.”

I tried to push those thoughts out. They were all terrifying, but the immediate situation was far more real and very much right in front of me.

“Cars only blow up in Hollywood. Gasoline needs a 1:9 mixture with air to be explosive. So as long as the fire is in the engine and not at the gas tank, it doesn’t matter…”

It was hardly much consolation. Doubts and fears continued to race through my head.

It’s surprising how many thoughts can run through your head in such a short time. I ran over to the car and began to try to pry the twisted front passenger door open to get at the driver.

The thoughts and fears continued racing. But somebody was certainly going to burn to death. The flames were only getting higher.

The door was twisted between the tree and wreck. A man’s hand stuck out through a gap between the car door and where it should normally be shut – the car frame. I tried the rear passenger door to no avail. It was similarly twisted into a fixed position and wouldn’t open.

Some other people were there. Two or three. I’m not sure as I didn’t glance around to look at anything else. I remember seeing out of the corner of my eye that a man had a large piece of wood (likely from a smashed picket fence), and was hammering on the rear passenger window, again to no avail. (I’d gone back to trying to get the front door open.)

It was frustrating. The doors wouldn’t open. The windows wouldn’t break. The people alongside me must have been feeling the same sense of hopelessness. I thought that this was it. He was going to burn to death.

To make matters worse, while we were trying to get through to this guy, some woman was screaming, “Get away! It’s going to explode.” Great. Just what I wanted to hear. It’s not like I didn’t already have those worries and doubts. I really needed to have them reiterated for me. I told myself the flames weren’t that bad as they were still in the front of the car, and not the back where the gas tank was. It wasn’t going to blow up. That’s just Hollywood. This is real life.

I stepped back thinking that I needed to find something hard and heavy to smash the window. Wood wouldn’t cut it. It was then that my foot brushed up against something. I could feel the weight as my foot pushed it. I couldn’t see as it was dark and the only light was the fire from the engine. I was again frustrated that my eyes aren’t as good as they used to be. (I now wear glasses.) I couldn’t help but think that 10 years ago, seeing in this kind of light wouldn’t have been a problem, again with all the same numerous thoughts and more racing through my head.

“I hope it doesn’t explode. I’d better be right about explosions only happening in Hollywood…”

“I need a rock. Something hard and heavy…”

“He’s only got a little time left. The flames are getting higher and higher.”

“If I don’t find something quick, I’m going to have to leave, and then I’ll have to helplessly watch this fellow burn to death.”

I got down on my hand and knees and began to sweep for what I’d hit with my foot. Half a brick. Good enough.

I stepped up to the front passenger window and began beating it with the half-brick that I’d found. The first hit did nothing. A few more hits and nothing. The flames were still getting higher and the fumes and smoke were thick. I continued hitting the window when it began to give way. A couple more hits and I’d made a hole.

Thankfully, though car windows are strong, they’re also made to shatter without the sharp edges that you get with normal glass. The hole sent cracks through the entire window, so I quickly began to pull out the shattered glass.

The fellow’s hand was still between the door and car frame. I yelled for him to give me his hand as I pulled out the last of the glass from the window frame. He wasn’t in any condition to do much at all.

I pulled his hand around and through the front passenger window. I heard some people yelling something behind me, but was too focused on what I was doing to know exactly what they were saying.

I began to pull on his arm and yell for him to give me his other arm, but he really was in bad shape. It was hard to see through the flames and smoke, which is why I’d yelled for him to give me his other arm, but I managed to see through the wafts of smoke and grabbed his other arm.

Someone beside me quickly grabbed his second arm and we began to pull him out, but as he was about half way out through the window, his legs got stuck on something. I’m not sure what it was as I couldn’t see well enough through the smoke.

I reached into the car to grab his waist and pull him up and out. Someone else might have grabbed the arm I had. As I pulled his waist up and out, he suddenly came free and out of the car. I fell back, lost my footing, fell to the ground, then got back up and grabbed his left wrist again to drag him away. Some other people were helping, but I was too fixated on the fellow there to look at them or pay attention to anything else. I just knew that we were getting him out and away.

We dragged him to the other side of the road and let him down. I could hear sirens and looking down the road, I could see what appeared to be several emergency vehicles approaching. It looked like a fire truck and a police car. I couldn’t make out an ambulance there, but figured that one must not be too far behind.

The flames on the car were even higher now, but other thoughts began racing through my head. I was out of breath and coughing horribly as I’d gotten a good deal of fumes and smoke in my face.

I looked down at the fellow and saw his left arm had been ripped open in the accident. I’ll skip the grizzly details as it’s something I’d rather forget. He was thin and appeared to be rather tall. His clothes were soaked in blood.

I’d cut my knuckles while flicking something dry at the sink earlier that day, as I’d accidentally hit the tap. I’d just not been paying much attention – trying to do a few things at the same time. I looked at my hands closely and saw that they were covered in blood, particularly my right hand where I’d smashed my knuckles against the tap. I began to worry about blood-borne diseases. I couldn’t have that. What would it do to my wife?

I knew that there was nothing more that I could do for the fellow laying on the ground. His injuries were pretty severe, and I’m no trauma surgeon. The ambulance wouldn’t be too far behind, and he was out of the car, safely away from it. I’d done what I could do, so I began to walk away, thinking about cleaning off the blood.

A fellow approached me saying, “Well done!” I don’t remember exactly what he said as I was coughing too hard, out of breath, and couldn’t speak. I dipped my hands in a puddle at the side of the road to wash off the blood, and couldn’t help but think about how disgusting that was. I then made my way back home to wash off the blood more.

I got in, still coughing, made my way to the bathroom sink and began washing my hands. I noticed then that I was bleeding fairly badly from my knuckles. I figured it was just a minor cut, and simply bleeding as it was on my thumb knuckles. I must have cut myself smashing the car window.

My wife came into the bathroom asking what she could do. I sputtered out, “Thieves soap in kitchen.” She came back in with it so I began to wash more. Still out of breath and horribly thirsty, I grabbed a couple glasses of water.

I told Yen that, “He’s pretty fucked up,” and gulped down the water as Yen helped me put on a few bandages.

Curious as to what was happening, I went back to the scene. An ambulance had arrived, and I didn’t see the fellow on the road. While I was there, the fire department was putting the fire out of the burning wreckage.

I spoke briefly with a police officer, then a talked with a few other people, including a couple people who had helped with getting the fellow out of the car.

I was still coughing pretty badly, and noticed that my hand was still bleeding more than I’d thought.

Figuring that I’d better take care of my hand, I went back home. I was in a fair bit of pain by this time, and seeing how my cuts were, I figured I’d better make a call to tell a client that I might not make the morning deadline. Just as I was pulling up an email with his phone number in it, the power company shut off all the power so that they could work on the lines and the snapped telephone pole. So much for that. Luckily the client was quite understanding with the situation, and extended my deadline.

Well, time for candles. My wife and I lit some candles, put them around the house, then pulled off the bandages, put some hydrogen peroxide on the cuts. They were fairly deep compared to what I’d thought before, and I figured that I’d need stitches, especially as they wouldn’t stop bleeding. I also figured that I’d need to get a blood test, and that was what I was most worried about as it would affect my family much more.

So, I drove off 1-handed to the hospital. And yet again, I was thankful for the driving knob I have on the steering wheel. it makes turning the wheel very fast and easy, and makes sharp turns possible that you couldn’t do otherwise.

I drove to The Alfred Hospital as it’s the closest one. The nurse and doctor were very nice. At one point the doctor that was taking care of the fellow we pulled from the burning wreck came in and thanked me. It was very nice of him.

I gave some blood to be tested, had a couple x-rays (chest for smoke inhalation, and hand for embedded glass), and got 5 stitches. It’s all healing quite nicely. I figure the small scars will make a good story someday. They’re not all that bad. Here’s a picture that my wife took:

My hand 5 stitches

I didn’t know before, but as I was about to leave the hospital, I saw a poster that detailed some about how The Alfred Hospital is equipped for racing car accidents. There’s an annual race in Melbourne that’s nearby, so a trauma unit that can handle accidents from it is needed. The fellow we pulled out there is quite lucky in some ways to have had that particular hospital nearby. Apparently he’s stable now.

The next day, I spoke with a couple neighbours that saw the wreckage that previous night. One showed me a video that she took on her phone just after we’d pulled the fellow out of the car. The video showed the car engulfed in flames. She said that if we’d not gotten the fellow out of the car, he certainly would have died in the fire. I’d take her at her word for it as she’s a nurse and has a good deal of experience with these kinds of things. She’d stepped in to help the fellow just as I was first leaving the scene. Apparently he was conscious, could still talk, and was saying his name.

My other neighbour told me that while it was brave, it was also stupid. He had a good point in noting that I have a daughter and wife to take care of. I had no obligation there, and if I’d been injured, what would happen to my family?

I just couldn’t get that question out of my mind at the time: Are you really going to just stand by and watch this fellow burn to death as he screams for help?

Update: I found some videos.


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2 thoughts on “Pulling a Fellow from a Burning Wreck

  1. Ryan, having pulled a few bodies out car wrecks, I know exactly how you must have felt. I’m very proud of you for taking quick and decisive action. That was a very selfless and heroic. It takes a cool head to prevale in these type of situations. You did very, very good Son.