By GRETCHEN EHLKE and CARRIE ANTLFINGER
Associated Press Writers
MILWAUKEE -- Two brothers who are Milwaukee firefighters were off-duty when their wives called them to the scene of a burning SUV that had a woman and her two young children trapped inside.
Joel and John Rechlitz were among the crowd who worked to rescue the family Sunday afternoon.
"Once you see a burning child, I mean, it doesn't matter who you are, firefighter or not," Joel Reichlitz told The Associated Press on Monday. "You are going to do whatever you can to save that child," Joel Rechlitz said.
Watch the Raw Video of the Rescue
The 32-year-old woman from Tennessee was driving the SUV when it hit a tree and burst into flames, police said. Videotape of the rescue shows a group surrounding the flipped, burning vehicle. Two men used pipes to break the windshield. The crowd then pulled out the woman and her 2-year-old daughter.
The woman's 4-year-old son was still trapped.
The Rechlitz brothers took turns reaching for the boy through the windshield, but were unsuccessful at first.
Watch the Associated Press Video Report & Interview
John Rechlitz reached in again but couldn't find the seat belt release; someone gave him a knife to cut the car seat's restraints.
Off-duty police Lt. Mark Wroblewski, who lives nearby, arrived with two fire extinguishers, and he and Joel Rechlitz tried to hold back the flames.
"When I pulled out of the vehicle to call for a knife, he stopped crying. I thought we had lost him," John Rechlitz said. "When I started cutting (the seat belt), he started crying again."
Joel Rechlitz said the extinguishers bought them time. "Five, ten seconds made the difference between this boy living and this boy dying," he said.
Hero Firefighters Honored Today
Children's Hospital of Wisconsin identified the boy as David Harper, who was in critical condition Monday; officials there set up a news conference Tuesday with his father, James "Chris" Harper. Police have said the boy has burns on 30 percent of his body. The Rechlitzes were treated for burns to their hands and arms.
Joel Rechlitz said he's watched the video several times.
"You tell stories but it really gives it justice _ the severity of the situation as well as panic in everyone's voices," he said.
First Report: Rescuers Save Three People from Burning SUV
Staff, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via Lexis-Nexis
A group of people including two off-duty firefighters and an off-duty police lieutenant rescued a woman and her two children from a burning SUV that crashed on Milwaukee's south side Sunday afternoon.
Most of the rescue was filmed by a bystander. The video shows the 1992 Chevrolet Blazer on its left side near S. 22nd Place and W. Layton Ave., its back half engulfed in flames and black smoke.
Two men eventually use metal pipes to break through the windshield, freeing the woman, who is a 32-year-old Tennessee resident, and her 2-year-old daughter.
They suffered minor injuries, police said.
The woman's 4-year-old son was still trapped inside.
Two brothers - John and Joel Rechlitz, who are Milwaukee firefighters and were off duty - were notified of the fire by one of their wives, who lives near the scene and saw the crash, said Tiffany Wynn, a Fire Department spokeswoman.
The video shows the off-duty firefighters trying to reach the boy through the windshield while off-duty police Lt. Mark Wroblewski sprays a fire extinguisher into the vehicle.
At one point the entire upper body of one of the off-duty firefighters is inside the vehicle before he pulls the boy out of the SUV.
Others then spray the boy with water while the man holds him. The boy was inside the burning vehicle for at least three minutes, the video shows.
The boy suffered burns to at least 30% of his body and was in surgery Sunday night at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, according to police and fire officials. His condition was not available.
It was not clear Sunday night which off-duty firefighter pulled the boy from the vehicle. Both men were treated for second- and third-degree burns but were released from the hospital Sunday night, Wynn said.
Wroblewski, who lives near the scene of the crash, said he spotted dark smoke from his yard and jumped in his truck to investigate. The fire was raging when he arrived, so he grabbed two fire extinguishers from his truck and ran to help.
"The off-duty firefighters, the off-duty police officers, these citizens of the city, they did an outstanding job," said Wroblewski, who suffered minor injuries. "They showed the true spirit of the city by coming together to save this child's life."
The one-vehicle crash was under investigation Sunday night, but alcohol was not believed to be a factor, police said.
Copyright 2009, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved - July 20, 2009
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed
prior posts in the FFN questioned why firefighters are called hero's... some wrote that we are just doing a job and that it is not justified to be called a hero. just watch the video and realize that this is an exemplary example of why some of us rise to the occasion and perform HEROIC SELFLESS acts. both these brothers were off duty and responded to their wives cell phone call. a child is alive because of these two individuals. what concerns me though is that this kind of traumatic event calls for intervention for both brothers. I hope counseling is made available for both.
Note: FFN Staff did an outstanding job putting this new info on line... good job!
I watched the first video a few times over and cannot tell when the first child, the daughter, was taken out of the car. I saw the mother being taken out, and the son at the end. Maybe I missed it due to a weird camera angle or people standing in the way.
Great job though, that almost brought tears to my eyes.
This video reminds me of the time when my father and I were driving back to Long Island, NY from Vermont. It was raining badly as we drove. Along the side of the highway we saw an SUV turned on it's side on the side of the road. There was no fire, but multiple windows were busted out from the impact I assume, and the people were outside of the car by then. From what I saw the occupants were mostly shaken up - understandable. What I do remember is going into the car from the busted out rear-window and checking for additional occupants. Not as heroic, if any at all, but it ensured me that working in the field (even as a volunteer) of firefighting and emergency services is something I wanted to truly do - paid or not.
These guys are truly heroes. They stepped up when obviously someone felt the need to stand back and video tape the possible deaths of a trapped family. Without the actions of everyone involved in the rescue, then the outcome would have been grave.
I can only wish these off duty men a speedi-recovery from the burns they obtained while performing such an unselfish act of courage and physical strength to save another life.
this is why we do what we do. we put our lives in danger everyday to safe someone that we don't even know. do we even think when we see something like this not even a chance. we just do what we do and go to the next call. way to go brothers i'm very proud of you and i sure hope you recover from then burns quickly.