A serendipitous chain of events meant that a Flushing firefighter was able to save the life of a 56-year-old woman following a fiery car crash on I-95.
Everything seemed to fall into place for 38-year-old Vinny Sottile from Ladder 167 in Flushing.
He told The Courier that he was about a half-hour from Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, on his way home to Lindenhurst, LI, on Saturday, December 12 when he saw a traffic jam.
“I saw a half-dozen or so cars,” he said. “At first I thought nothing of it.”
But when he noticed people running across I-95, he pulled over and “saw two civilians trying to pull a lady out of a car.”
Sottile just happened to be driving his car – not his wife’s – and he just happened to have his gear in the back, since on his prior tour a few days earlier, he had been assigned to a different firehouse – Ladder 165 in Douglaston.
“I just seemed to be at the right place at the right time,” he said.
He put on his FDNY coat and gloves, climbed over the nearly four-foot median and rushed over to the car, a Volkswagen Beetle, engulfed in flames.
“I reached deep down and pulled as hard as I could . . . I pulled the woman out the window,” said Sottile.
He then got the semi-conscious woman, identified in reports as Janice Vaillancourt of Old Lyme, CT, away from the scene and did a “primary survey,” meaning he checked her from head to toe.
Sottile said that Vaillancourt’s hair was burned, there was blood near her eye, her pants were burned and her Ugg boots were charred, with probable first-degree burns underneath.
From what he understood, said Sottile, the woman might have crashed into a pre-existing accident, since even the trooper’s car was smashed.
She was taken by ambulance and regained consciousness soon after, according to reports.
In the meantime, local firefighters and a Fire Chief arrived on the scene – as the car fire was spreading – and Sottile volunteered to help extinguish the blaze.
“I helped stretch the line and put out the fire,” he said.
The entire incident took about an hour, said Sottile, after which time he told The Courier, “I got back in my car and my wife said, ‘That was incredible.’”
Back on the road home, Sottile called his lieutenant – and thanked his wife “for being so patient.”
Ever humble, Sottile said that when he reported back to his firehouse, he received a hero’s welcome.
“When I walk in the kitchen they stand up,” he said. “I was just doing my job.”
He continued, “I just had to make a decision and everything worked out for everyone.”
FDNY spokesperson Jim Long told The Courier that Sottile will receive a write-up and an acknowledgement, as well as a possible commendation in the near future.
“[This] speaks to the commitment of FDNY members,” said Long. “Sottile acted in the true tradition of not only the FDNY, but the Fire Service.”
As for another trip to Mohegan Sun, Sottile said he is up for it.
“I won $5 and saved a life.”