September 1, 2011

2011: Deputies recount fiery rescue: 'We just went in and grabbed him'

Intense heat and suffocating smoke. A driver clutching the steering wheel, refusing to get out of his burning pickup.

Intense heat and suffocating smoke. A driver clutching the steering wheel, refusing to get out of his burning pickup.

Sedgwick County sheriff's deputies Thomas Delgado and Joe Page rushed up in hopes of pulling David D. Ong from the vehicle, retreated and then rushed up again.

"It was so hot," Page said. "It was painful just to get up that close. In the end, we just went in at the same time and grabbed him."

That was the scene about 7:15 a.m. Wednesday in the 3700 block of South Broadway.

The two deputies managed to pull Ong through the window and drag him across Broadway just before fire engulfed the pickup's cab.

"No way I could have lived with myself if I had watched this man burn up in his vehicle right in front of me," Delgado said.

Ong, 65, of Peck, sustained minor burns and smoke inhalation and has been released from the hospital. Delgado and Page were treated for smoke inhalation.

Delgado's voice was still raspy from the smoke Thursday as he and Page talked about the previous day's experience.

Ong suffered a medical condition that Kansas Highway Patrol investigators think was related to low blood sugar. His northbound maroon Chevrolet pickup first struck two vehicles, one at 71st Street South and then at 55th. Just south of 47th, the truck went onto a median and hit a couple of signs before finally crashing into the guardrail.

Delgado was the first to arrive at the scene. The rear of the truck was already on fire, belching huge plumes of black smoke.

"I automatically assumed the person was going to get out of the truck," Delgado said.

Instead, Ong clutched the steering wheel, revving the engine as he shifted between drive and reverse. A rear tire, flat and spinning, sent showers of sparks that apparently set the truck on fire.

The driver's-side door was smashed, unable to open. The only way to get Ong out was to pull him through the window.

Over the engine's deafening noise, Delgado yelled through the open window, "Get out, get out. Your truck is on fire."

Ong responded, "In a minute, give me a minute."

He kept shifting the gears.

"That was the scariest part for me," Delgado said, "because I didn't know if it was going to go (blow up)." I kept yelling at him."

Delgado tried to unbuckle Ong's seat belt, but the dazed man reached down to stop him.

Page arrived less than a minute after Delgado.

"I was never so happy to see him in my life," Delgado said.

Never had either deputy been in such a situation. Delgado is a 13-year veteran of the department, and Page has nearly five years.

"You don't go through scenarios like this in training," Delgado said. "Deputies aren't firemen."

Page said, "We're trained to stay alive."

At that moment it wasn't looking good for all three of them.

When a bystander tried to help, Page screamed, "Get back. You're going to get killed."

Page used the small fire extinguisher he carries in his patrol car to try to douse the flames around the gas tank.

That slowed the fire down some, but the extinguisher quickly emptied.

The fire grew worse, and a couple of loud pops came from underneath the truck. Both deputies jumped back, thinking the gas tank was going to explode.

Page had three thoughts: "We have to save him, he's going to die or all three of us are going to die."

Without saying a word to each other, they rushed the truck at the same time, fighting through heat and smoke.

Delgado used Page's knife to cut the seat belt. Page grabbed Ong's right arm and pulled him off the steering wheel and toward the window. Delgado grabbed the other arm, and together they yanked him through the window.

"We pulled hard," Page said. "I'm surprised he didn't suffer any injuries from us pulling him."

As they dragged Ong across Broadway, the fire trucks began arriving.

"They almost ran over us," Delgado said.

Once safely on the other side, Ong sat up, shook Page's hand and told him thank you. Delgado was a few feet away gasping for air. He soon would have the worst headache of his life.

The whole scene lasted less than two minutes.

"It felt like a long time," Page said.

Their efforts probably will be recognized by a special commendation from the department, Sheriff Robert Hinshaw said.

"People like to say it's just their job," Hinshaw said. "But, you know, not everyone can do what deputies Page and Delgado have done."

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