Atlanta police officer Brittany Williams had mere seconds to react after responding to a car fire in Buckhead on Sunday morning and finding a man trapped inside.
The door closest to the man was stuck and the dashboard had collapsed, pinning his legs, so Williams crawled inside the burning vehicle.
“We're going to do whatever we have to do to get him out — that was the only thing I could think about,” she said during a media briefing Monday at the Zone 2 police precinct. “I can’t watch this man burn alive.”
Williams was the second officer on scene about 4 a.m. after the car crashed head-on into a utility pole on Lenox Road at Ga. 400. Two other passengers had been removed from the car before police arrived.
Together, officers Williams, Christopher Davis and Charles Tierney worked to keep the flames at bay and tried to pry the man, who has not been identified, from the crumpled wreckage.
Police released body camera footage of the rescue Monday.
“Everybody was screaming. It was a pretty chaotic scene,” Tierney said. “We saw the flames and we knew we had to get them out.”
They had Tierney’s small, standard-issue fire extinguisher and a police baton to use as a crowbar. But the door wasn’t budging, and neither were the man’s legs.
He was stuck in the front passenger seat. Williams continued speaking to the man from the back seat, attempting to keep him awake.
“While they were trying to suppress the fire, I was just trying to figure out how to get him out,” Williams said. “Honestly, I had to tell him, ‘I need a little bit of your effort. If you don’t help me, I’m not going to be able to get you out.’”
His legs were starting to smoke, she said, but somehow he began to move. It was just enough for Williams and Tierney to hook their arms under his and pull him from the vehicle before the flames took it over.
He wasn’t burned, and no officers were injured. The rescue took about four minutes, though it seemed much longer, the officers said.
“It definitely felt good to get a win,” Tierney said.
All three of the car’s passengers were taken to an area hospital and were in stable condition Sunday morning.
Police still don’t know much about the crash, and they are hoping to learn more once the man recovers.
“If he's able to meet with us,” Tierney said, “it would be great to shake his hand.”