Joel P. Rechlitz helped to rescue David J. Harper from burning, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, July 19, 2009. David, 4, was in a booster seat in the rear seat of a sport utility vehicle that overturned onto its driver’s side in a residential neighborhood and caught fire. Flames fueled by leaking gasoline burned on the street, covered the rear of the vehicle, and entered its interior. Rechlitz, 29, and his brother, both firefighters, were at the brother’s home a few blocks away when they were alerted to the accident. Although they were off duty, they immediately responded to the scene, where others were working feverishly to gain access to the vehicle through its windshield. After his brother helped in partially removing the windshield, Rechlitz stepped into the vehicle. He located David but was unable to free him before fire conditions forced him back out. His brother then entered the vehicle, but he too was unsuccessful in his attempt, flames spreading toward the front of the vehicle’s interior. Rechlitz and his brother alternated entering the vehicle to free David before the brother, with a knife, re-entered, cut the safety belt restraining David, and took him through the windshield to safety. Badly burned, David required extensive hospitalization. Rechlitz also required hospital treatment, for second-degree burns to his right arm and abrasions to his legs.
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