Natatia Bledsoe is the public information officer for the Fredericksburg Police Department.
Good Samaritans and police save two from car fire
City resident Robert Nave, Sr. says that it was no accident he and his daughter Courtney happened to be driving on Fall Hill Ave yesterday evening. Robert, who describes himself as a very spiritual person, told me “It was meant to be”.
Around 5:20 pm on Monday, Robert and eight-year-old Courtney were driving toward Central Park when they came up behind some slow traffic caused by a vehicle that was stationary in the roadway. As other drivers continued around the stalled Pontiac, Robert noticed that the car had handicapped plates and he stopped to offer assistance.
The windows of the Pontiac were rolled up and the male driver and his elderly female passenger appeared to be a little distressed, but it took a few moments for Robert to understand that there was a haze of smoke inside the car and the electric locks and windows weren’t working. Then Robert saw smoke coming out from under the hood. He told the driver to pull the hood release, and as soon as Robert opened the hood, flames shot up from the car’s battery.
With the car’s electrical systems inoperative, the two occupants of the car were stuck inside as smoke filtered into the passenger compartment through the vents. Robert tried to break a window, but he didn’t have any tools and he quickly abandoned the attempt.
Robert called 911 on his cell phone and looked for a way to extinguish the fire, soliciting help from other motorists. Assistance first came in the form of three construction guys in a work truck, who poured the entire contents of their Igloo water jug on the flames. That seemed at first to do the trick, but the fire flared again. A young couple who were behind Robert’s car in traffic offered the bottles of water they had in a cooler, and these were being emptied onto the fire when City Officers Paul Chewning and Rich Young arrived on the scene.
The victims in the car were coughing but “amazingly calm” when the officers told them to duck down and shield their faces, then used their batons to break out the rear windows of the Pontiac. Once the windows were clear, the driver was able to hand the keys to Officer Young and the car doors were manually opened. Officer Young helped the driver into his wheelchair and away from the vehicle, while Officer Chewning assisted the female passenger to the side of the road where Robert’s daughter Courtney gave her hugs and comfort.
Robert said that it “felt like forever” until emergency help arrived, which is understandable. But given the circumstances facing the victims and Good Samaritans, three minutes – the time from the 911 call to the officers’ arrival – surely seemed like an eternity. The Fire Department followed another minute later and finished the job started by the bystanders, and rescue squad personnel provided care on the scene to the two victims. Both the driver and passenger declined the need to go to the hospital.
Robert and Courtney remained throughout the incident and its aftermath, and Robert offered to drive the two victims, parishioners at a local church, back to their homes in Spotsylvania County. “We talked the whole way”, he said, and their conversation focused on their shared belief in the design of their meeting. “It was meant to be.”
Officer Chewning told me today that the fire under the 1998 Pontiac’s hood was likely caused by an electrical malfunction that rendered the power locks and windows unusable. He recommends that drivers keep an emergency exit tool in the center console to help prevent this type of emergency, and it’s always a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher in the trunk.