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News | July 24, 2021

Army recruiter and wife rescue man trapped in burning vehicle

By Alun Thomas U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion - Phoenix

Time was of the essence, a potential disaster imminent. Smoke filled the air, sparks and flames flying, a driver desperately trapped inside his prone vehicle. 

It was a sight that befell Sgt. 1st Class David Jenkins and his wife Stefanie, July 16, as they encountered a car on the brink of explosion following a crash.

Jenkins and his wife immediately jumped into action without hesitation. It was a day they will never forget.

Jenkins, station commander, Superstition Recruiting Station, Tempe Recruiting Company, was driving with his wife in Queens Creek when they noticed a car that had crashed into a wall outside Fat Cats entertainment center.

“We didn’t see the actual accident, but the huge dark cloud of smoke caught our eye,” Jenkins said. “The only indication that there were people in the vehicle was the wheels rotating at a high rate of speed and the gas pedal was depressed.”

Jenkins and his wife knew they had to act – quickly. They leapt out of their vehicle without a thought to their own personal safety to rescue the inhabitants of the disabled car.

“We were first on scene then two more people showed up. The passenger was having a seizure and he was trapped in his vehicle,” Jenkins recalls. “His windows were rolled up and the smoke inside of the vehicle made visibility limited. Added to this all of the doors were locked.”

The situation was so dire that one of the other rescuers broke a door window with his bare hands, Jenkins said.

“I immediately jumped inside the vehicle from the passenger side, removed his foot from the gas pedal and attempted to remove his seat belt, but it was stuck,” Jenkins said. “Stefanie jumped in the back seat to assist in cutting the seat belt loose. All of sudden the car caught fire making this whole situation even more terrifying.”

The fire quickly escalated through the vehicle, perilously close to everyone inside.  

“At this point the fire quickly moved to the inside of the vehicle through the AC vents, glass was shattered everywhere and we were inches away from the fire,” Jenkins remembered vividly. “We had seconds to get the victim out safely. We finally broke him free from the seat belt & dragged him to safety.”

Mere seconds after freeing the driver the vehicle was totally engulfed in flames, Jenkins said, all involved narrowly escaping.

“The moment we hopped out, the car was engulfed in flames and had a minor explosion … it was scary,” Jenkins said. “We knew we didn’t have much time left, but we weren’t going to leave him behind.”

Happily the driver was unharmed, but things could have been a lot worse, Jenkins added.

“Thankfully the young man was okay after a nurse nearby performed aid,” he said. “I had a few cuts on my leg, but other than that everyone was safe and sound. It was crazy and our adrenaline had us shaking.”

Stefanie was similarly proud of her husband’s efforts and couldn’t imagine not attempting to help.

“Risking your life is a choice and no one should be shamed for wanting to protect their own life,” Stefanie said. “However, I couldn’t live with myself if I watched a man burn alive and I chose not to try.”

“This was definitely a first for me and I’m so proud of the heroism David showed tonight. A true man and a courageous Soldier,” Stefanie concluded.

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