A Los Angeles County Fire Department captain on his way to work got an unexpectedly early start Saturday when he pulled over to aid victims at an accident and ended up rescuing a man trapped in a burning car.
Capt. Dave Thies was westbound on the San Bernardino Freeway about 6 a.m. when he saw an accident near Holt Avenue.
He had just stopped to ask if he could be of assistance when several other cars, apparently unable to avoid the first accident, plowed into one another.
As Thies and others watched in horror, two of the cars burst into flames. Passengers in one of the vehicles were able to escape but the driver of the other car remained trapped as the fire began to engulf the interior.
"The whole back and driver's side were on fire," Thies said. "I tried to open the door but it was locked. I ran over and tried to break the glass with my fist, but I couldn't."
At this point, someone handed him a flashlight and Thies used it to break the window on the passenger side.
But the man, who was semiconscious, was still wearing his seat belt. By then, the man's clothes were on fire, Thies said. Nevertheless, he jumped in, released the seat belt and pulled the man to safety.
He and a nurse who had also stopped "rolled him around on the pavement to extinguish the flames," Thies said.
The victim, Jorge Nunez, 25, suffered second-degree burns over about 25% of his body, West Covina Fire Department Battalion Chief Al Cheramie said. He was taken to Inter-Community Hospital in Covina and later transferred to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.
Thies, 35, said he suffered second-degree burns on both hands, his forehead and ears. His hair was also singed. He was treated and released from Inter-Community Hospital.
Despite his injuries, Thies insisted on going to work Saturday at Station 98 in Bellflower. His boss took one look at him and ordered him home.
He will end up taking about a week off to recover, he said in a telephone call from his Upland home.
Thies said he gave no thought to his own safety when he jumped in to save another's life.
"I knew it had to be done and it had to be done quickly," he said. "Any fireman being there at the time would have done the same thing. It's something you prepare for."
The cause of the initial accident is being investigated, Cheramie said.
One of the six vehicles involved was a van transporting a body from a Las Vegas funeral home to a mortuary in South-Central Los Angeles.
Besides Thies and Nunez, three other people received injuries, none of them serious, Cheramie said.