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VIDEO: Retired FF Played Role In Fiery Vehicle Rescue

VIDEO: Retired FF Played Role In Fiery Vehicle Rescue

December 05, 2010

BOCA RATON, FL – You can take the man out of firefighting but, apparently, you can’t take firefighting out of the man.

During Wednesday night’s deadly car accident on Interstate 95 in Boca Raton, a retired EMS supervisor helped control the flames in the burning SUV while a police officer shot out a window and rescued the trapped passenger.

“I’ll be candid with you, if I had a weapon I probably would have shot the window out too,” said Larry Estaban, 57, who retired in October after a 30-year career with Palm Beach County Fire Rescue.

“I probably haven’t physically fought a fire in 12 to 15 years,” he said. Estaban had been a firefighter before rising in the ranks to be a supervisor.

But the old instincts and training kicked in when he and his wife drove under the Spanish River Boulevard overpass on northbound I-95 about 15 seconds after a Chevy TrailBlazer hit a utility pole and burst into flames.

“Once you’ve been trained and once it’s in your blood, if you’re ever called upon to use it, it’s still there and you still have that foundation to draw upon,” Estaban said.

He was the third Good Samaritan to arrive at the deadly accident.

“I stopped, did a quick survey of the scene, one of the individuals was expired, the other individual was critical, no doubt, but the car was on fire,” he said. “I checked the inside of the vehicle and found the young lady.”

The Florida Highway Patrol identified David Mattheu, 31, as the Boynton Beach driver who was killed in the crash. Both he and surviving passenger Shawn Thomas, 25, were ejected from the vehicle while Brianna Motley, 22, remained trapped inside.

As Estaban was trying to fight the flames with an exhausted extinguisher, Boca Raton Police Officer Jimmy Jalil Jr. arrived on the scene. Estaban knew he would have a fresh fire extinguisher in his patrol car so Estaban grabbed it and the two worked on freeing Motley from the wreck.

“I firmly believe there was a reason the two of us were put there at the same time,” Estaban said.

“We never coordinated our actions. We never said, ‘You do this, I’ll do that.’ His training came into play the way he works; my training came into play the way I work and it just shows how important a working relationship is between fire rescue and law enforcement on any and all scenes.”

Estaban’s wife of 35 years, Terri, was standing outside their truck far from the scene.

“At first it was like, ‘OK, he’ll go see and help out,’ and I was glad he was there,” she said. “But once I realized someone had lost their life here and the smoke started and the fire got really big and he didn’t have any protective equipment on, it got really scary.”

Her husband had recently conquered cancer and she didn’t want to lose him to a fire, especially in retirement. Terri Estaban admitted it was “better living in ignorance those 30 years and not knowing” the dangers he faced on the job.

“I learned a whole new respect for what he’s done for all those years,” she said.