In his nearly 14 years with the Palatine Police Department, Detective Phil Hemmeler had never experienced a situation like the one he faced on June 7, 2019.
Phil was in his squad car having lunch when he heard on his radio that a vehicle had crashed into a brick wall of a strip mall. The shopping plaza happened to be the same one where he was currently parked. Phil immediately went to the scene where he saw a white sedan impaled into a brick wall of an empty retail space. Phil could see smoke coming from the car and as he approached the vehicle, he also noticed that the car was lodged deep into the wall which consequently was blocking both of its front doors.
The smoke was getting very heavy, so Phil proceeded to open the back-passenger door of the vehicle to access the unconscious driver and try to get him out of the car. Phil was successful in undoing the man’s seatbelt. However, the space was too narrow to pull him out of the car.
“The smoke was really starting to fill up the car [and] I was trying to hold my breath, trying to give him voice commands like ‘hey, I want to get you out,’ ‘it’s on fire’ and he wasn’t responding,” said Phil. He explains, the smoke was so heavy that it became hard to see. At that point, the fire had surrounded the driver and Phil could see the driver’s feet burning. The flames were also spreading to the visor above the victim’s head, burning his shoulders and head. Phil recalls thinking he needed to figure out a different way to get the injured driver out of the car. That is when he and other officers that had just arrived at the scene decided to use a tow strap procured by a manager from one of the business near the accident.
Phil, with assistance from others at the scene, secured the tow strap to his squad car, a Chevy Tahoe, and to the vehicle on fire. After three attempts, he was able to pull the vehicle out. Now able to open the driver’s side door, Phil tried to get the man out of the car but was met with resistance. “I couldn’t get around him, I couldn’t get in the car far enough to get the leverage to pull him out,” explained Phil. He remembers trying to put the fire out as much as he could from around the man’s face and head and using fire extinguishers until the fire department arrived on the scene. Firefighters were then able to pull the man out of the car with the help of special equipment.
Later that day, back at the police station, Phil got in touch with the man’s family. A few days later, while visiting the victim in the hospital, Phil had the opportunity to meet the man’s son who shared how grateful he was that his dad had made it alive.
For the first time in 18 years, coronavirus caused the cancellation of the Red Cross Heroes Breakfast, but stories of resilience and determination prevail. These “Everyday Extraordinary Heroes” live among us. Watch their stories every Tuesday & Thursday starting April 14 at 10 a.m. in social media.
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