A city employee called in to salt some icy roads Friday night began his shift by pulling someone from a burning car.
“I got called out for icy roads at about 10 p.m. or so,” said Jim Mumford, a truck driver at the Department of Public Works.
On his way, he spied a vehicle that had crashed into a tree on River Street.
“I noticed there was a fire in the driver’s compartment by the steering wheel and I happened to see something moving inside and thought, ‘Jesus,’” he said in an interview Saturday.
He said the person in the vehicle appeared to be trying to get themselves out, but they couldn’t. Mumford said he pulled the person out and covered the man’s legs in snow to extinguish them, as they’d caught fire. Mumford said the person had severe burns on their hands and face.
According to Deputy Chief Bill Lovett, of the Rutland City Fire Department, the vehicle was a Dodge Caravan that crossed the centerline of River Street and crashed into a tree. He said the department doesn’t know who the driver was, nor the cause of the crash.
Information regarding the driver’s condition was not available Saturday night.
Mumford said there was a young woman at the scene speaking to a 911 operator, but they were having a difficult time communicating. Mumford said he later learned the woman’s name is Summer Amerio.
“When I last saw her, she was being hugged by her boyfriend, or whatever he was, and I didn’t get a chance to say thank you,” said Mumford.
Having been a member of the Clarendon and West Rutland fire departments, Mumford has seen numerous car crashes where onlookers seem more concerned with getting photos than calling 911.
“We’ve been at car accidents where people are getting out of their vehicles and they’re walking down the street and they’re taking pictures and it’s like, come on, those are somebody’s family members, you know?”
To hasten the rescue efforts, Mumford called his supervisor, Dan Maniery, told him what happened and said to send police, fire and rescue services.
“Sgt. Adam Lucia from the Rutland City Police Department, he showed up, him and Dave Mazzarello picked (the victim) up off the sidewalk and got him over into a driveway across the street,” said Mumford.
There were then two small explosions from the vehicle, which sent bystanders running, said Mumford.
“I guess there were little propane tanks inside the car, and I asked him, I says is there anything else in there? I’d asked him if there was anybody in the vehicle with him, he says no, then he said there’s a 20-pound propane tank in the back of the vehicle,” said Mumford.
By then, the Rutland City Fire Department had arrived.
“And that’s when the fire department got up close to it, and I’m yelling to them back up, get away from it, there’s a 20-pound propane cylinder in the back. The other fireman, T.J. Lacz, he come over and told them to back up because there’s a propane tank. He just kinda went from there,” said Mumford.
Lovett said that according to the fire department report, the 20-pound tank didn’t explode, and firefighters had the blaze under control within the hour. Regional Ambulance Service transported the Caravan driver to Rutland Regional Medical Center, while Carrara’s Towing & Recovery towed the vehicle. Green Mountain Power was also called, as was Vermont State Police.
Mumford said that he spoke to police Saturday morning and was told the Caravan driver had been transferred to UVM Medical Center’s burn clinic. Police didn’t immediately return a follow-up call from the Herald on Monday.
After the incident, Mumford said he went back to salting roads that evening, finishing up around 3:30 a.m.
“They called us back in at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. to fix some little spots here and there that were icy,” he said. “I think we got done around noon.”
He planned to spend Saturday evening at the VFW in Rutland with his wife, Mary, having dinner and dancing.
People on Facebook have been calling him a hero, but Mumford said he doesn’t feel like one and thinks anyone in his situation would have done the same.
“I’ve been to many car accidents and things like that, but it’s one of those (situations where) instinct takes over. You know what needs to be done and everything else around it, you focus a little bit,” he said. “It’s like I was telling my boss today when we went back in, my mind was working overtime all this morning, I was kinda irritated with things …. it’s a constant, repetitive thinking afterwards; what else could I have done? What could I change. You can’t really change anything, you just gotta do what you gotta do.”