In the third post of our series documenting how knives save lives, we see that tragedy can strike instantly at any time.
On July 19, 2009, even a routine drive became a frightening life or death situation for one family, after their SUV flipped on its side and burst into flames in Milwaukee, Wis.
Inside the car was a mother and two small children. Fortunately, the mother was able to escape with one of the children, but the second, D.J. Harper, was trapped inside the burning vehicle.
As you can seen from the footage below, the people watching were trying but failing to get the boy out and the SUV was rapidly filling with smoke and fire.
Remarkably, the wife of a firefighter was walking by the scene, so she called him to come down. Within a minute brothers John and Joel Rechlitz, two off duty firefighters, arrived at the scene and took control.
Even though they were getting burned, they bravely peeled back the shattered windshield and saw that then 4-year-old D.J. was strapped in by his seat belt. The first thing that popped into their head was to get a knife to cut him out, but that day they weren’t carrying their pocket knife as usual.
Luckily, one of the neighbors had a knife, and they were able to cut D.J. out of the vehicle where he was literally being burned alive.
The boy suffered terrible burns, but survived. A surgeon was quoted in CNN saying that D.J. could have died if he stayed in much longer:
The depth of the boy’s burns “indicates to me this was a very hot fire, and he was in close contact with it,” pediatric surgeon David Gourlay said. “These firefighters were clearly heroic and saved D.J.’s life.”
Had a knife not been near, there’s no doubt the firefighters would have struggled to get the boy out quickly, and there’s a real possibility that he might not have made it.
D.J. will have to wear a tight-fitting hood, vest and gloves every day until he’s 18 years old in order suppress scars, but thanks to the off duty heroes and a knife, he’ll be able to live another day.