An estimated 325,100 annual vehicle fires cause an average of 440 civilian deaths, 1,500 civilian injuries, and $1.2 billion in direct property damage. (USFA/NSPA)
As flames crawled along the hood of the wrecked car yesterday on the Meadowbrook Parkway in Uniondale, officer Jimmy Brown reached inside to search for the driver.
"The only thing I ever saw was the back pocket of his blue jeans," Brown said. "I couldn't see anything else because it was too smoky."
Brown managed to pull out driver Fareed Knight, 29, of Hempstead, who was knocked unconscious after his four-door BMW slammed into a guardrail and burst into flames about 3:09 a.m. yesterday in the parkway's southbound lanes.
Knight was taken to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, where he was listed in critical condition yesterday night.
Knight's mother-in-law, Hyacinth Patterson, said yesterday that she hoped to thank Brown in person. She said Knight is the father of a girl, 5, and a boy, 2.
"Thank you. Thank you," she said in an interview. "May God continue to bless him."
Knight's wife, Dione, was at her husband's bedside late yesterday, and the family was praying for his recovery, Patterson said.
Nassau police are investigating the single-car crash.
Brown, 36, an emergency services officer in the Nassau Highway Patrol Bureau, was on his way to help a fellow officer with car trouble when he saw the flames about 400 feet south of Hempstead Turnpike.
"I couldn't see what it was but I knew something was wrong," said Brown, who was treated at NUMC for smoke inhalation and released.
Brown, who had been northbound, stopped the county-owned truck he was driving and hopped the roadway divider. At first, he didn't know whether anyone was inside the fiery wreckage. But another man who also stopped yelled at Brown, saying someone was inside.
"I couldn't see into the car. It was so much smoke. I opened the door and the smoke started pouring out," Brown said.
Gasping for air, Brown spotted Knight, who was curled under the passenger side dashboard. Brown grabbed him by his jeans and pulled him about 10 feet from the car as the fire began to engulf the BMW.
Brown moved Knight about 10 to 20 feet farther away after hearing loud popping noises coming from the car. He then began to check Knight's pulse and noticed he had "shallow breathing."
"I knew I had a little time, but I wanted the [ambulance] to get there as soon as possible," he said.
Brown, who has been on the force for about nine years, said he hopes Knight recovers, adding that his actions to save Knight were just part of his job.
"If you can do that once, then going to work is worth it," he said.