Flames engulfed the car’s engine and were edging toward the 63-year-old Sayville man trapped inside, as a pair of Suffolk police officers approached the vehicle that had veered off the roadway on the Long Island Expressway.
Officers Glen Baillargeon and William Judge, partners in the department’s elite Emergency Services section, knew they had only minutes to get the man out of the car, which crashed about 7:55 p.m. Sunday on the eastbound LIE between exits 60 and 61, the officers said Monday.
But the car was wedged between trees on the shoulder of the highway and the doors wouldn’t open. The man was unresponsive and the officers couldn’t pull him through the driver’s side window.
Minutes earlier, off-duty Suffolk police dispatcher Christopher Sabella, 54, said he was on his way home from work when he saw the car on fire and tried to help.
“I tried to get him out the window but that wasn’t happening. I went to the back door and tried to pull him out from there, but that wasn’t happening either,” said Sabella, a Selden resident who is a longtime member of the Selden Fire Department.
Baillargeon and Judge, who described their rescue efforts Monday afternoon during a news briefing at police headquarters in Yaphank, used fire extinguishers to try to put out the flames, all the while telling the man stuck inside that everything would be OK.
“We’re here for you,” Baillargeon recalled Judge telling the man. “We’re not leaving you.”
As the flames grew and the car filled with smoke, Baillargeon tried to push the man’s seat back while Judge climbed in the back seat in an effort to pull him out.
“It was making things hot and uncomfortable for everyone involved,” said Judge, describing the heat from the flames.
But the seat wouldn’t budge.
The Holtsville Fire Department arrived, throwing the officers a line, allowing them to extinguish the flames, and the firefighters eventually cut the roof off the burning car and lifted the man to safety.
The man, who police did not identify, may have suffered a medical emergency, causing the accident, police said. He was transported by a Farmingdale Fire Department ambulance to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and was expected to survive, police said.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini, alongside First Deputy Commissioner John Barry and Chief of Department Stuart Cameron, applauded the efforts of the officers, the off-duty 911 operator and the other first responders, calling it “an excellent rescue” that saved the victim’s life.
Judge and Baillargeon aren’t new to earning accolades. Sini publicly praised them last week for climbing some 20 stories in the air and successfully talking a suicidal man off the Fire Island Inlet bridge Oct. 16.
“We’ve had a busy week,” Baillargeon quipped. “We welcome it.”
Asked if the officers had earned an official department commendation, Sini replied with a smile: “I’ll think about it.”