Unbelievable Rescue: Off-Duty Firefighters, Neighbors Rescue Woman, Two Children from Burning Car

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Get a knife! Get a knife! We gotta get water. We need water. Get the baby. Spray the baby!

Video of two off-duty Milwaukee firefighters and bystanders making a dangerous rescue on Sunday of a 32-year-old woman and her two children, ages two and four who were trapped in their SUV that had overturned. The firefighters also got help from an off-duty police officer (Lt. Mark Wroblewski), neighbors and bystanders — armed with fire extinguishers that bought some extra time. The video was shot by neighbor Jerry Lepkowski.

John Rechlitz, who was driving near the accident, received an urgent call from his wife about the accident and fire. Together brothers John Rechlitz and Joel Rechlitz, off-duty firefighters with the Milwaukee Fire Department raced three blocks to the scene at 22nd and Layton and smashed the windshield to get the mother out first … and then a four-year-old boy.

The two-year-old had already been handed out of the car to bystanders from the mother trapped in the car.

One of the children suffered burns to at least 30% of his body. The off-duty firefighters also suffered burns to their hands and forearms.

An explosion, most likely an air bag canister detonating, is heard at about 2:50 elapsed time. Depending on the year and model of vehicles, this rescue presents a variety of dangers. Air bag canisters can become projectiles that can injure or kill rescuers, victims and bystanders. Air bags can detonate while rescuers are in the path of the exploding air bag. Gas tanks can explode. Flaming gasoline can project out of the gasoline inlet, if the right conditions exist to build pressure and blow off the gas cap. Electric shock hazards can exist in newer hybrid vehicles.

Lots of safety notes for the rescuers (not to say they weren’t prepared). A sharp object was needed to cut a seat belt, presumably connected to a car seat. One of the rescuers mentioned he needed gloves. The windshield takes a lot of work to shatter and remove. Things to think about … to always have available in your car or truck. Keep in mind that the seat belt cutter needs to be in a secure place that you could reach in a wrecked car. It it’s loose, it might fly out of reach.

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The site where an overturned SUV rested and burned while off-duty firefighters and bystanders rescued three victims of the accident.

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Map of rescue site where three victims of an SUV vs. tree and vehicle fire extricated by off-duty firefighters, neighbors and bystander in Milwaukee, just northwest of Mitchell Field.

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