With the driver nearly unconscious and heat building in the car from a fire under the hood, it was up to Bryan Sorgen and Larry Bassett to figure out how to get the man out of his car before the flames reached him.
A failed attempt through a broken side window to unlock a door only further hampered the rescue.
Finally, Sorgen ripped the already broken windshield from the car, reached in with a pry bar and unlocked the driver door, allowing him and Bassett to get Luke Kenwick to safety just before the fire breached from the engine to the car.
Sorgen, an off-duty Fort Wayne firefighter, was on his way home with his girlfriend Wednesday afternoon after a few days off at a Steuben County lake near the crash.
He said only about a minute passed after he and Bassett freed Kenwick from the car before the fire broke through from the engine.
“The heat started to build in the car and the smoke was increasing,” Sorgen said of the conditions as he and Bassett worked to free Kenwick from the car.
Kenwick, 31, of Middlebury, was traveling west on Bayview Road from County Road 200 West when he crashed into a large tree, according to the Steuben County Sheriff’s Department.
When Sorgen happened upon the crash, the only person there was someone on the phone with 911. Bassett, a passer-by who happened to have a fire extinguisher and pry bar in his car, arrived soon after.
With emergency responders on their way, Sorgen and Bassett went to work to free Kenwick from the car.
Sorgen said Kenwick was too dazed from the crash to respond to any commands to get out of the car or unlock the doors.
Sorgen tried to get to the door lock from a side window but was unable to open the door.
With the windshield of the car already broken, he decided to remove it so he could reach the door lock with the pry bar.
Sorgen said this was the first time he’s been involved in a rescue while off duty, but said his responsibility to public safety doesn’t stop just because he’s not on the clock.
“Whether you’re on duty or off duty, when you see somebody in need, you’re going to do what you can to help,” Sorgen said, crediting his training with the fire department for the skills he put to use at the crash.
Kenwick was taken to a hospital.