Donald Green was honored Saturday for rescuing a 17-year-old girl from a flaming car. But the incident and its aftermath say as much about the bonds of friendship as they do about heroics.
On Dec. 16, a car driven by Shannon Hamrick, a Chatsworth High School senior, burst into flames after it collided with another vehicle at the intersection of De Soto Avenue and Oxnard Street in Warner Center.
Green, 30, who was driving by, ran to the blazing car, pulled Shannon out and used the light jacket he was wearing to douse the flames burning her skin.
She was burned over 40% of her body and required treatment for a month at Northridge Hospital Medical Center. Surgical treatment for scarring on her face, arms and legs is expected to continue for at least three years.
But a bond was formed in the near-tragedy. Either Green, a quality inspector for a telecommunications company, or his wife, who is expecting a child, visited Shannon every day in the hospital. They have had dinner with Shannon's family several times since her release Jan. 16.
And when Green was honored Saturday by the Los Angeles Fire Department with a special commendation for rescuing Shannon, she and her family were standing around him, hugging and thanking him.
"I've got a crush on her," Green said, his arm around Shannon's waist, as he sat on the back of a fire truck at the Canoga Park fire station where the ceremony took place. "She's my new little sister."
Shannon said it was an "act of God" that Green came along when he did to rescue her. "Our friendship was something that was meant to be. Now I feel that God wants me to help somebody on this earth just like Donald helped me."
After Battalion Chief Donald Grant presented Green with the commendation, Shannon hugged him and wiped tears from her face.
Green said he didn't know why he acted so quickly when he saw the burning car. "Time just stopped," he recalled. "Something else just took over. It was like someone else running over to her and grabbing her."
He said he was aided by the fact that the collision had ripped open the door on the driver's side of Shannon's car and that she had not been wearing a seat belt.
Green said that, after he pulled Shannon out: "She should have been in shock, but she was very strong. She kept asking about her face, and it was almost like she just wanted to get up and run away. I had to really pin her down."
It apparently wasn't until Green was at the hospital waiting room with Shannon's family that the reality of the accident struck him.
"All of a sudden, his hands started shaking, and his whole body started trembling," said Shannon's father, Ron Harden, 47.
Harden said: "He just stayed right there. It was so amazing, because it was not something he had to do."
Green said his affection for Shannon may have been influenced by an incident several years ago when his car was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer on the New Jersey Turnpike. His vehicle was spun into the path of oncoming traffic, and he closed his eyes.
When he opened them, his car was off the road. A motorist who witnessed the accident told him it was a miracle that he had not been hit by oncoming traffic.
"I never got that man's name, but he was very nice to me, and maybe this was my way of paying that debt," Green said. "I feel that when you become involved that intensely in somebody else's life, you just don't walk away."
Shannon has adjusted well to her injuries, Harden said. She is becoming more outgoing and just picked out the dress for her senior prom.
Harden said of Green: "I feel like I've known him for years. Of course, I can never repay him, even if I gave him all the money I make for the rest of my life. I can only tell him how much I appreciate what he did.
"He's one hell of a human being."