Vincent Sottile was driving home to Lindenhurst on I-95 after a night with his wife at the Mohegan Sun casino when he spotted two men trying to a pull a woman from a burning car.
By chance, Sottile, 38, an FDNY firefighter and 20-year volunteer for the Lindenhurst Fire Department, had his gear in the back of his Chevy Blazer. He threw on his turnout coat and gloves, climbed over the median, plunged his hands into the flames and pulled the woman out of the window, Sottile said in an interview Sunday.
The fire, about 3:45 p.m. Saturday in the northbound lanes of I-95 in Orange, Conn., was the scene of a double accident that also injured a Connecticut state trooper.
Connecticut State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance said Sottile was among a number of people who helped save the woman. "There's many people who deserve credit. The trooper called for help because he couldn't get her out of the car. I think the firefighter deserves credit for stopping. We certainly commend him for doing so," Vance said.
The crashes were still under investigation Sunday, and no charges have been filed, said Vance, who said he did not know the woman's condition.
The trooper was investigating a three-car crash when a speeding Volkswagen crashed into the rear of his cruiser, Vance said. The cruiser lurched into another vehicle, which struck the trooper, throwing him into the median. The trooper was treated for a shoulder injury at a local hospital and released.
The Volkswagen then burst into flames. When Sottile arrived, flames were rolling over the roof. The female driver was unconscious, pinned under the steering wheel. "Two people, two civilians, were trying to pull her jacket, but they kept getting pushed away by the fire," Sottile said.
After Sottile pulled the woman from the car, he said he and a nurse, who had also stopped at the accident scene, checked the woman for injuries and pulled off her charred boots. She had minor burns - the equivalent of a sunburn - and a bloody eye, and was semiconscious when an ambulance took her away, he said.
Sottile and the trooper pulled flares from the wrecked cruiser and used them to block traffic on the interstate, Sottile said.
Meanwhile, a second car near the Volkswagen caught fire, Sottile said.
The Orange and New Haven fire departments responded, and Sottile said he offered a hand, pulling on the rest of his gear to help extinguish the fires.
"This was my most thrilling, my most satisfying rescue," said Sottile, who has worked as a New York City firefighter for seven years and is based at Ladder 167 in Flushing. "All that training, it finally paid off."