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Firefighter's a Hero by Instinct : Rescue: Philip Guiral pulled an injured man from his car moments before a train plowed into it. Guiral downplays his efforts, but the man he saved doesn't.


SOUTH PASADENA — A South Pasadena firefighter who left a catering business 10 years ago to seek a more exciting career was hailed as a hero last week after he pulled an injured motorist from a car moments before a freight train slammed into it.

When Philip Guiral, a paramedic until he was promoted to captain just two weeks ago, and five other firefighters responded to a traffic accident late Wednesday afternoon, they found two damaged cars on the railroad tracks at Fremont Avenue and Grevelia Street.

The driver of one car, a Cadillac, had walked away. Guiral approached the other car, a yellow, 1979 Porsche. The driver was still inside.

"Just at the time I got there, the crossing arms came down, the bells went off and the lights were flashing," Guiral recalled in an interview Thursday. "I saw the train coming about 200 yards away."

Guiral was reluctant to move the dazed and bleeding driver--later identified as Kivork "George" Aintablian, 35, of Glendale--fearing such action would worsen a possible spinal cord injury. But as the train approached, the captain decided he had no choice.

"I pulled him out of the car, holding his head with my hand, trying to keep it stable," he said. "Then I sat him on the sidewalk, out of the way."

About 20 seconds later, the freight train struck the two cars at 35 m.p.h., officials said.

Guiral, 39, a native of France and a resident of Long Beach, had a business degree and started a catering service, he said. But a decade ago, he grew "bored with the 9-to-5" and switched to firefighting.

Guiral said his actions Wednesday did not deserve special recognition.

"It was instinctive," he said. "I didn't think it was any big deal. Any one of the firefighters would have done the same thing. I was just the closest to the car."

But the rescued driver did not downplay the captain's courage.

"The way the car was damaged, God knows what would have happened," said Aintablian, an engineer with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works. "I owe him my life, I think. If he didn't pull me out, then I'm gone."

Aintablian was treated and released from a Pasadena hospital for a head injury suffered when he hit the windshield.

Aintablian said he was driving home from his office in Alhambra when he collided with the Cadillac, which he said made a left turn in front of him.

The other driver, Antonio Delacruz, 47, of Marina del Rey, was not hurt, authorities said. The crash remained under investigation Thursday, South Pasadena Police Lt. Joyce Ezzell said.

The rescue cast a rare spotlight on the South Pasadena Fire Department, one of the county's smallest fire agencies: one station, 24 firefighters, a fire chief and two part-time employees. On average, the department handles six or seven fire, medical aid or public-assistance calls a day in the 3.4-square-mile city of about 24,000 residents.

Because of the department's size, each member must be able to handle medical emergencies, hazardous-materials spills and building inspections. Unlike their colleagues at larger agencies, South Pasadena firefighters do the brake jobs and oil changes on their fire vehicles themselves.

"Instead of having a lot of little specialists like a big department, we have to know it all," Guiral said. "And we do."

Guiral endured playful razzing from his colleagues because of the attention he received for rescuing the motorist. But Fire Chief William Eisele said he has no shortage of heroes.

"Our guys are pretty competitive," he said with a smile. "Some of the guys were upset that they didn't get to him first."

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