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Off-duty firefighter who pulled teen from burning car: 'That's what we're there for'

Posted at 12:01 AM, Jun 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-18 05:48:06-04

FRANKLIN, Ohio — Dressed in his weekend uniform of shorts, sandals and T-shirt, West Chester fire Lt. Garry Zimmer was off-duty and on his way to a date night with his wife Saturday afternoon as he drove down Route 123. When he noticed a crash up ahead, however, he stopped his car and got out to investigate.

“My job to do at that time was to help those people,” he said Monday.

They needed it. Three 18-year-olds stood huddled around a crashed SUV on the side of the road. A fourth — the driver — was still inside, pinned between the door, the steering wheel and the tree that had stopped the vehicle.

He was also running out of time, Zimmer said Monday. Flames glowed under the hood.

Working with Franklin police Lt. Brian Pacifico, who was already on the scene, Zimmer crawled inside through a broken window.

“He was in pain,” Zimmer said of the driver, Frank Philippe II. “You could see the frustration. He wanted out. When those flames rolled up onto the hood and into the compartment, it was time to go.”

What happened next happened very quickly.

“I got up underneath his arms to the side, leaned over the console, grabbed him and put him in a full body throw back into the back seat,” he said. “He came out with me.”

Philippe would be cited for failure to maintain control, according to Pacifico, and briefly hospitalized that night. He had been released by Monday morning, according to his father.

Zimmer said he didn’t consider the rescue anything especially heroic.

“I consider it something any one of my brothers would do, any police officer would do,” he said. “When there’s a need to help people, that’s what we’re there for.”