An off-duty Stockton police officer was commended for his astute response in rescuing two people from a burning vehicle last weekend.
Officer Mark Afanasev with the Stockton Police Department was off-duty and traveling through Rancho Cordova in Sacramento County with his wife Saturday night, July 17, when a vehicle collision caught their attention.
“I looked over, I saw a car flipping over and sliding onto its roof,” Afanasev said. “The second car was sliding into a pole.”
The car that had crashed into a pole suddenly went up in flames, the officer said.
Without thinking twice, Afanasev quickly sprang into action to help save the people who were trapped in the burning car. He told his wife to call 911 and ran out into the flames.
“The only thing I could think of, these people are going to burn if I don’t help them,” he said.
Caught on his vehicle’s camera, Afanasev can be seen running into the flames and helping two victims out of a burning car.
One victim, a man, is then seen getting out on his own while the officer helps the second victim, a woman, get out. Both victims’ legs were on fire.
Upon seeing the crashed car on fire, the seven-year officer said his police training kicked in, and he rushed over to help.
“I didn’t even feel the heat when I went into the flames,” Afanasev said. “I didn’t feel it at all.”
The victims were transported to a local hospital, and information about their current condition was not immediately available.
Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones said in a statement that “all of us at the police department are extremely proud of Mark’s heroic actions.”
“Even while off-duty, Mark put his own life in danger in order to help rescue the occupants inside that burning car,” Jones stated. “This is just another reminder that law enforcement officers are never off the job when duty calls.”
Afanasev said he doesn’t think what he did was anything special, saying that he was just at the right place at the right time. Just before he spotted the crashed car on fire, the officer said he was contemplating going to bed and filling up his car the next day, but something told him not to wait.
“I can live with a couple of burns or whatever injuries I might get,” he told KTLA’s sister station KTXL in Sacramento. “I wouldn’t be able to live with standing by knowing that I could have helped somebody and now they are gone.”
The victims’ identities and the cause of the crash remain unknown.