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Wayne Township firefighter describes saving woman from burning car

WAYNE TOWNSHIP, Mich. – While at home on July 11 getting his things around for the next day, Wayne Township Assistant Fire Chief Craig Yeager received a call.

Broadcastify recorded the transmission: “Roth Road north of Dewey Lake Street. Single vehicle rollover, believed to be somebody inside the vehicle, vehicle’s on fire.”

An overturned vehicle was engulfed in flames about a mile from his home.

“The original call came for it to be on Roth Road. Well, it was actually on Dewey Lake Street. Which for the lady in the car, it was probably, probably good,” said Yeager.

On the way to the fire station, Yeager was able to see the crash because it was on the other road.

“On top of the hill, on the way to the call, I could see the fire and I could see it wasn’t on Roth Road it was almost right in the middle of the intersection on Dewey Lake and Roth Road. And that kind of told me what I was going to do next,” he said. “There was no way I was going to make it to the station.”

Yeager, in his personal vehicle, pulled over, threw on his gear, and jumped into action.

The victim, 31-year-old Trisha Smith of Dowagiac, was hanging upside down in her crashed vehicle after she fell asleep at the wheel.

Yeager said because of the way her car hit a tree, the driver’s side door was sheared off perfectly. He was able to reach her and cut her out of the seatbelt with his Leatherman knife, which he had just cleaned and put back in his truck minutes before the crash.

“If the door would have still been there, as mangled up as the car was, it would have took more than me to get the door out of there,” said the Assistant Chief.

A video shows Yeager dragging Smith from the vehicle and away from the flames she was sitting in as her vehicle continued to burn.

And the rest of the county was listening as Yeager was saving her life, “Subject out of the vehicle. Possible broken ankle, minor burns, and the car is fully involved,” he said over a radio call.

Smith was rushed to a nearby hospital and airlifted to Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo for treatment of broken bones, burns to her feet and buttocks, and a lacerated liver which caused internal bleeding.

Despite her injuries, the family said Smith Is functioning fine but still in pain.

“Everything worked. Everything worked for her. And I really believe I was nothing more than a tool in somebody else’s hand. I believe that,” said Yeager. “Everything that happened, in that accident... If any one thing would have been different, she wouldn’t have got out of it. Just any one thing. If I hadn’t had my Leatherman knife if that door hadn’t sheared off, if she hadn’t been upside down, it would have been a whole different story.”

The man who disregarded his own personal safety to help someone else said he wasn’t alone. He said anyone who was listening on the radio was right there with him.

He described the entire experience as “surreal” and “unique.”

“I did call my wife from the scene. I told her ‘I just saved a person’s life,’” he said emotionally.

Smith and her family do have a wealth of medical expenses and have set up a GoFundMe account. If you would like to donate, click here.

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