A Shelton man pulled three young men out of a burning car early Monday, April 9.
“There’s no doubt in my mind this would have been a fatal incident,” Fire Marshal James Tortora said while praising the actions of Jefferson Reis.
Reis, 35, heard a noise as he slept inside his Walnut Tree Hill Road residence around 3 a.m. Monday, April 9.
It was similar to something he’d heard before from his wood stove. But when he checked, that wasn’t it. He looked outside, and still didn’t see anything.
“Then I looked through the windows and saw one car, stopped across the street, (facing) the wrong way,” Reis said.
The engine was racing, but not revving, he said. Rather, it was at a continuous pitch, without slowing or stopping, he said.
“I was thinking someone was working on my neighbor’s house, maybe there was an emergency,” he recalled.
He was on his way back to bed, and took another look out the front windows. The car was there, but Reis didn’t see anyone.
He told his wife, Mariane, he thought something was wrong with the car across the street, that he heard a noise but didn’t see anyone with the car.
“I thought I’d take one last shot, went to the bedroom, opened the windows a little bit. I see a little fire coming out of the front of the car, underneath,” Reis said. “I tell my wife there’s something wrong with the car, there’s someone there, I have to go there, baby.”
Reis dressed and went outside. He still didn’t see anyone near the car. He started shouting, “Is anybody there?” and yelling that the car was on fire.
“Then the driver opened the door,” Reis recalled. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God, there is somebody there.’ I said, ‘Get out of the car, it’s on fire.’”
The driver opened the door, but still was not climbing out of the car as the flames continued to spread.
“I walked to the car, grabbed his arm. I said, ‘Come here. Come here, please. Your car is on fire,’” Reis said.
Reis helped the driver get to a neighbor’s driveway, about 20 feet from the car.
The driver told Reis his wallet, cell phone and a “couple other guys” were still in the car.
“I ran back to the car,” Reis said. “My wife was at the door, she looked at me, she was calling the fire marshal, the police station. She was scared.”
Mariane was holding their 2-year-old daughter, Milena. “She was watching.” Their son, 5-year-old Italo, was asleep inside.
Reis said he got to the car, opened the rear driver’s side door, and saw another person sleeping.
“There was so much smoke I couldn’t see much,” Reis said. “I tried to pull him out, he was like, ‘I don’t want to go.’ I said, ‘You have to go, the car is on fire.’ I grabbed him, I throw him on the ground, he realized the car was on fire.”
The other occupant then opened the front passenger door,
“But the fire was right there when he opened the door,” Reis said.
“I said, ‘Get out, get out.’ He opened the door, but didn’t go far from the car, and the car started getting on fire so quick.”
Reis got the teens away from the burning car and to his driveway, then got them water.
“Minutes later the whole car is going,” Reis said.
“Right after he pulled them out it went,” Tortora said.
Huntington Co. #3 and White Hills Co. #5 responded to the call with two engines and a rescue truck. Firefighters extinguished the fire within minutes of arriving, but the car was destroyed.
“They overheated something by racing the engine,” Tortora said of the possible cause.
Tortora said the teens were evaluated by Shelton EMS, but did not want further treatment.
Reis said the teens asked him if he could get them home.
“I said OK. What can I say, I already take you out of your car,” Reis said.
“The gentleman even gave them a ride home,” Tortora said.
Reis then returned home, discussed the incident with fire officials, and, as he does daily, left at 4:30 a.m. for his construction job, which currently has him working in Norwalk.
The teens have since been back to visit him, Reis said.
“They’re so thankful for everything I did,” Reis said. “They came here, they asked what happened, they want to know how it happened.”
Tortora said it’s likely someone would have died had Reis not roused the teens and gotten them out of the car.
“If didn’t see the fire I would have gone back to sleep,” Reis said. “If I don’t see the fire, these kids are going to get burned.”
“It was like a crazy night for me, but thank God everything goes right in the right time,” he added. “Nobody got hurt. That’s what’s important.”