RIDGEFIELD PARK, N.J. - Three officers in Bergen County, New Jersey, responded to a middle-of-the-night call unlike any other: a Honda Civic experienced an electrical malfunction and burst into flames on the side of Route 46 in Ridgefield Park just before 2 a.m. on Saturday, July 2.
The officers knew they had to act fast to save the motorist inside.
"We knew we were going to get him out one way or another," Patrolman Anthony D'Elia told FOX 5 NY.
One way or another turned into a strategic smashing of the windows and trying to outsmart the smoke and the flames.
"We did our best to get him out the driver's side, unfortunately, none of the doors would open as hard as we tried. When we were unsuccessful with that, I ran around to the passenger side to see if I could get him out that way," Patrolman Nicholas D'Alto said. "Fortunately, I was able to grab two hands and get a good portion of his body through that window."
The officers reasoned they had about five minutes before this went from an insane rescue to something much more serious. Only D'Elia has fire rescue training. The others were running on adrenaline and instinct.
Success came just as the flames were taking over the entire car. The officers dragged the motorist, Christopher Vagnone, a safe distance away from the car as the Ridgefield Park Fire Department arrived to put out the fire.
The officers administered first aid to Vagnone, who was not seriously hurt. He later went home with a family member who had come to the scene.
"Eighteen-year career, that was the top, top, top of the food chain for me," Sgt. Nicholas Triano said. "Nothing ever that intense."
All that is left at the scene: glass, ash, and mangled and melted metal.
Vagnone said he doesn't know what happened to his car to make it catch fire. He is grateful to the Ridgefield Park Police for saving his life.