A bomb squad officer on his way to work and two civilians helped pull a trapped man from a burning station wagon on the northbound 405 Freeway in Sherman Oaks on Wednesday, saving his life, authorities said.
Los Angeles Police Department Officer Don Thompson was southbound on the 405 on his way to work in the LAX area just before 2 p.m. when he saw the station wagon traveling on the northbound side crash into the center divider near the Ventura Boulevard exit, said LAPD spokesman Lt. Andy Neiman.
Thompson pulled over to the center median on the southbound side, jumped over the guardrail, opened the door of the car and saw a man in his mid-to-late 60s unconscious in the driver's seat.
"The fire was starting to spread inside the passenger compartment," Neiman said. "He was able to cut the seat belt with his knife, pulled the gentleman out of the vehicle, and two citizens who also stopped came up and also assisted in pulling the driver further away from the vehicle."
The car was fully engulfed in flames shortly afterward.
The driver, who has not been identified, was transported to a hospital with moderate injuries, officials said.
Thompson, who wasn't on duty yet but in uniform, sustained first- and second-degree burns, abrasions to his hands and knees and suffered from smoke inhalation during the rescue. The 26-year department veteran was treated at the scene and then taken to an urgent care facility for his serious injuries.
"Nobody would have survived that vehicle based on what the (Los Angeles) Fire Department observed when they arrived," Neiman said. "It truly is a Christmas Day miracle. It's the best gift that Officer Thompson and the gentleman in that car could have received that day."
That sentiment was echoed by LAFD spokesman Erik Scott.
"I spoke to a couple of individuals that arrived on scene and saw this take place," Scott said. "Without the intervention of civilians and the officer, that man would have died."
An off-duty LAFD battalion chief, also driving on the southbound 405 Freeway, also witnessed the incident and was able to contact the department's dispatch center directly and tell them the quickest way to access the burning car, which saved emergency responders about five minutes, Scott said.
The battalion chief, who was not identified, was also able to evaluate the injured driver shortly after the incident, he said.
"I believe he was headed to a family member's house for Christmas but arrived a little late -- but for a good cause," Scott said.