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Friday, Oct 24, 2014
Tampa police pull man from burning car
Tampa police pull man from burning car

Ruben Perry, a Tampa father of seven, was unconscious in his burning vehicle when a group of Tampa police officers arrived at an accident scene Saturday night.
 
Officers Dwight Vinkenmulder, James Byrne and Shawn Purcell reached inside the car and frantically pulled at Perry, who was trapped under the dashboard.
 
As they pulled, four of their colleagues – officers Hunter Stevens, Andrew Seligman, John Stanjeski and James Parsons – used fire extinguishers to keep the flames at bay.
 
“He was coming with us or we weren't coming out,” Vinkenmulder said.
 
The officers worked for five minutes in the burning vehicle to free Perry. During a Sunday afternoon press conference, they said it felt longer.
 
They emptied several fire extinguishers. A nearby resident handed officers a larger extinguisher, which they also emptied.
 
“These guys saved our lives by keeping that fire suppressed,” Purcell said. “It was such a team effort.”
 
At one point, the flames grew so hot that they couldn't bear it.
 
“A big ball of flame came up underneath the dash, just a huge ball of fire, and the heat just knocked us back,” Byrne said. “We had to pull back. When they stopped with the extinguisher, the flames subsided and we were able to get back in there and do our job. … With our efforts combined we were able to just pull him out. Everything we had, we just pulled him out.”
 
Seconds after the officers freed the 6-foot, 220-pound Perry from the vehicle it was engulfed in flames, Byrne said.
 
The men said the thought of their own safety never came into play. Six of the seven officers were treated at a local hospital for smoke inhalation after the rescue. They were later released. 
 
“At one point in time I looked at (Byrne) and we're pulling on the guy as hard as we can and I go, 'He's not freeing up, he's not freeing up,'” Purcell said. “At that point in time, (Byrne) looks at me and he goes, 'Let's pull one more time.' … We all grabbed basically a body part that we could find and all three of us – and it felt like an eternity – and just pulled and pulled.”
 
Perry, 35, was driving his Chevrolet Monte Carlo north on North 22nd Street about 9:30 p.m. when he crossed in front of a vehicle driven by Bridgette Vann, 40, who was driving south on North 22nd Street, police said.
 
Vann's vehicle struck the passenger side of the Monte Carlo, police said. Moments later, the Monte Carlo burst into flames.
 
“As they approached the car, they observed the victim was trapped under the dash,” Sgt. Mike Flynn, in charge of the police department's District III field training squad, said. “The vehicle had actually collapsed around him, almost like a cocoon and he was trapped, immobile in there and unconscious.”
 
The gravity of the rescue grew Saturday night and Sunday morning as the officers learned of Perry's family.
 
“Nothing like this has ever happened to anyone of us, I don't think,” said Vinkenmulder, a father of five. “I don't think anything is ever going to top knowing that we saved that man and returned him to his family.”
 
Added Purcell: “Just to know the fact that, as you said, this gentleman gets to spend his Father's Day with his kids and we were successful in actually rescuing somebody. It just warms your heart a little bit to know that you actually did provide this amazing service to this gentleman. He gets to spend this time with his children.”
 
Perry, who went to the police station Sunday morning to thank the officers, told police he did not want to speak to the media. He preferred, instead, to spend the day with his family.