A Warren firefighter is being hailed as a hero for putting himself at risk to save a Barrington woman from a burning car in a bizarre, fiery accident in Warren Wednesday afternoon.
Volunteer Patrick Rimoshytus, a long-time member of the Warren Fire and Rescue Department, was released from Rhode Island Hospital Thursday after being treated for first- and second-degree burns on his hands and legs. The woman he saved, Carolyn Corbett, 68, of 22 Sherwood Road in Barrington, was being treated for burns over a significant portion of her body. She was in the Intensive Care Unit of Rhode Island Hospital on Thursday.
If Mr. Rimoshytus and several other passers-by had not taken the actions they did, police said, the outcome would certainly have been much, much worse.
“He did an incredible job,” said Warren Fire Chief Al Galinelli. “He happened to be at the right place at the right time, did what he was trained to do, and he did it without hesitating.”
“His actions can only be described as selfless and heroic,” added Warren Deputy Police Chief Joseph Loiselle, who saw the rescue unfold. “He took his life into his hands and got her out, at great risk.”
The accident occurred on Schoolhouse Road just after 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, when Ms. Corbett rear-ended a car and caused a chain reaction fender bender that spread to two more cars ahead of her. All were at the west end of Schoolhouse near the intersection with Market Street (Route 136).
Deputy Chief Loiselle just happened to be driving south on Market Street with two other officers seconds after the collision, and almost kept driving.
“The only thing that stopped me is I saw a little white smoke,” he said.
Though the damage to all four cars was relatively minor, Ms. Corbett seemed to be having difficulty after the accident. As they pulled over, the officers could see that she was still inside as the motor raced and smoke poured from underneath the car body. The driver of the car Ms. Corbett hit, an elderly gentleman, told police that after the collision she continued to sit in her seat, revving the engine and staring straight ahead, spinning the car’s front tires even as they disintegrated underneath her.
“He said she continued to step on the gas pedal, and her tires spun down to the steel rims and six or seven inches into the asphalt,” Deputy Chief Loiselle said.
Finally, the car burst into flames, not a minute after Deputy Chief Loiselle and the other two officers arrived. As flames erupted, Warren Town Council member Cathie Tattrie, an EMT, ran over from Smith Funeral and Memorial Services, the funeral home she operates at the corner of Schoolhouse and Market, to see if she could help. Meanwhile Mr. Rimoshytus, who also just happened to be passing by, had just gotten out of his car.
“I’m coming across the parking lot toward the accident, and Patrick’s yelling at me, ‘There’s somebody in there! There’s somebody in there!'” said Ms. Tattrie, who yelled out for someone to bring blankets to the scene. Meanwhile, Mr. Rimoshytus grabbed his protective fire gear.
In a television interview Thursday evening, Mr. Rimoshytus said Ms. Corbett’s tires were spinning so fast that they were disintegrating. He ran over once and tried to get her out, but she was buckled in and he didn’t have a knife to cut her free. He ran back to his car, grabbed a blade and all his gear, and came back.
“I could see she was suffering,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ms. Tattrie tried the driver’s side door, but the flames were too much. She tried the driver’s rear door, too, but the heat drove her back.
“There was too much heat. It was an inferno.”
By then, Mr. Rimoshytus was back, clad in helmet and jacket but no protective pants. He jumped in through the passenger side door and started cutting Ms. Corbett free as the car continued to burn around the both of them.
Cutting her loose, he tried to pull her out, yelling for Ms. Tattrie and others to help. As she came partially free, he, Ms. Tattrie and others were able to grab hold of her and get her all the way out.
“We all just pulled her and flopped her out onto the pavement,” Ms. Tattrie said.
But she wasn’t out of danger. Ms. Corbett’s clothes were on fire, Mr. Rimoshytus had sustained burns to his hands and legs, and the car continued to burn uncontrollably. Even four fire extinguishers — three used by police and one brought over by an employee of the Bank Newport next door — weren’t enough to put out the flames.
Realizing the car could blow up, responders pulled the woman away from the car and wrapped her in blankets to smother the flames. Meanwhile, the car continued to burn down to nothing.
“There was nothing left, and I mean nothing, inside,” Deputy Chief Loiselle said. “Just springs from the seats.”
Minutes later, rescue crews took Ms. Corbett and Mr. Rimoshytus to Rhode Island Hospital.
Lt. Loiselle said Ms. Tattrie and Mr. Rimoshytus should be singled out for their bravery, as both put themselves at great risk to help the trapped woman. Particularly, he said, Mr. Rimoshytus deserves a commendation.
“I don’t know how the woman is doing,” Deputy Chief Loiselle said. “But I hope he saved a life. All I can tell you is that he put himself at major risk. He’s a hero.”
As he was interviewed Thursday evening, Mr. Rimoshytus broke down when recalling the fire. As he talked he held his fire helmet, which had gotten knocked off his head during the rescue and been left on the passenger side floor. It was melted, burned and covered in soot.