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‘It’s not always about catching bad guys,’ Atlanta cop says after fiery crash rescue

(From left to right) Atlanta police Officers Bill Brooks, Andre Valentine, Elijah McCall and Derek Daniel  helped rescue two people from a fiery crash Wednesday. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM
(From left to right) Atlanta police Officers Bill Brooks, Andre Valentine, Elijah McCall and Derek Daniel helped rescue two people from a fiery crash Wednesday. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

When Atlanta police officers found a car engulfed in flames and two men trapped inside, they had no time to coordinate a plan.

The intense and quickly-spreading fire was starting to burn the driver and passenger in the vehicle early Wednesday.

A car was removed from the scene of a fiery crash at Cheshire Bridge Road and I-85. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM
A car was removed from the scene of a fiery crash at Cheshire Bridge Road and I-85. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

The driver was unconscious, and the passenger was screaming repeatedly for help, Officer Bill Brooks said.

He and a team of other officers — Derek Daniel, Elijah McCall, Michael Skillman and Andre Valentine — jumped into action.

Atlanta police and fire officials responded to a fiery crash Wednesday in Fulton County. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM
Atlanta police and fire officials responded to a fiery crash Wednesday in Fulton County. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

The officers grabbed fire extinguishers, batons and water bottles out of their police cars. They started busting car windows.

“I signed up to help people,” Brooks said. “And that’s what I’m going to always do.”

Atlanta Police Officer Bill Brooks talks about rescuing occupants from a burning car on Cheshire Bridge Wednesday morning. Video by John Spink/AJC

Skillman was the first to arrive on the scene on Cheshire Bridge Road under I-85.

He was knocking out one of the car’s windows with a baton when McCall arrived.

“I didn’t notice (the passenger) until he pretty much started screaming,” McCall said.

By that time, Brooks, Daniel and Valentine had joined Skillman and McCall.

The officers concentrated on trying to build an exit point for the victims because the doors were jammed close.

Daniel got a water bottle and started pouring it on the hood of the car.

Atlanta Police Officer Derek Daniel talks about rescuing occupants from a burning car on Cheshire Bridge Wednesday morning. Video by John Spink/AJC

“I wasn’t really concerned about my safety at the time,” Daniel said. “It comes with the job of being a first responder.”

Valentine, who has been on the job about a year, said the rescue was second nature and he would do it all over again.

Atlanta Police Officer Andre Valentine talks about rescuing occupants from a burning car on Cheshire Bridge Wednesday morning. Video by John Spink/AJC

“I would hope that somebody would do that for my family as well,” he said.

The team of officers, soon joined by firefighters, were eventually able to free the driver and passenger, police said. They were taken to Grady Memorial Hospital in serious condition.

McCall said he doesn’t consider himself a hero, just a guy doing his job.

Atlanta Police Officer Elijah McCall talks about rescuing occupants from a burning car on Cheshire Bridge Wednesday morning. Video by John Spink/AJC

“It’s not always about catching bad guys,” he said. “We also go out and save lives.”