“I put my hands underneath his armpits and just dragged,” says rookie police officer Michael Rodríguez, explaining how he bravely managed to extricate 33-year old David Vargas from his car—and away from a fiery inferno—after a head-on collision.
The 23-year-old cop’s quick instincts were all caught on video by a dashboard camera.
During a routine patrol, Rodríguez encountered a crash scene seconds after an accident had happened. A blue Mazda had swerved into oncoming traffic on NW 88th Ave in Miami, slamming into a white Porsche. The two Porsche passengers dove from their car but the driver of the Mazda had not yet emerged.
“I saw the two vehicles in the middle of the road and I exited my vehicle and then the front of the car exploded and started engulfing in fire,” says Rodríguez.
He says he went over to the Mazda and saw the driver was semi-conscious and the door was jammed.
“I just used all the strength I could to pry it open,” he says.
A two-year veteran of the Doral Police Department, Rodríguez says the incident ranks “right up there” on the danger scale.
“You train for it, but once you encounter it for the first time it is just pure instincts,” he says. “This type of accident – being close to a burning vehicle which has the potential to explode - this was a first for me.”
He says being a police officer has been his dream since he was a kid.
“People always asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’ and I would say, ‘I want to be a cop.’”
When asked if his mom had seen the video, Rodríguez replied, “She hasn’t yet. She’s Cuban, so she’s going to say 'Mi hijo, que tu estabas haciendo?'"
Yesterday, Doral supervisors presented Rodríguez with the “Saving a Life” award, a ribbon to be worn underneath an officer’s name tag. Rodríguez says he put the ribbon on before his night shift and hasn’t taken it off since.
In this instance, he had to handle the situation on his own, but he says radioing Fire Rescue officials as he ran to the crash meant the victims could be transported that much more quickly.
“As a police officer sometimes you have to do things on your own,” he says. “You don’t question, you don’t think about it you just react. When you sit back and watch the video and the adrenaline is gone you realize what you did was good. You go on to the next day and you go back on the road and do it over again.”
Does he think he’s a hero?
“It’s just our job, you know? It’s what we do. It’s what we swore to do when they gave us a badge and a gun when we hit the streets,” he says. “Police officers do this on a daily basis, it just goes unnoticed. I’m glad it was caught on video to remind people what police officers encounter, the demands of the job, and that we are there to protect citizens every day.”
As for the future Rodríguez says, “I want to explore law enforcement and all its aspects and move up the ranks as far as I can go.”
Kathleen Reuschle Harrigan is a freelance producer for the Fox News Channel’s Miami bureau.