Melville Fire Chief Saves Driver From Fiery Demise

Melville Fire Department Third Assistant Chief Jason Bernfeld, inset, freed an injured driver from this fiery crash, above, along the Northern State in Melville on Monday.   Photos courtesy of Steve Silverman

Melville Fire Department Third Assistant Chief Jason Bernfeld, inset, freed an injured driver from this fiery crash, above, along the Northern State in Melville on Monday. Photos courtesy of Steve Silverman

By Janee Law
jlaw@longislandergroup.com

A Melville fire chief rescued a driver from what could have been a fiery demise Monday morning.

Jason Bernfeld, third assistant chief of the Melville Fire Department, said he pulled over around 6:20 a.m., when he observed tail lights in the woods along Northern State Parkway near Round Swamp Road in Melville.

In the woods, Bernfeld found a Ford Crown Victoria turned on its side and pinned up against a tree. The driver was trapped inside.

Bernfeld, 32, of Melville, grabbed the radio from his car and called for help.

The driver “couldn’t get his seatbelt off and was suspended by the seatbelt in the air,” Bernfeld said.

The driver, who suffered back and neck pain, was shouting, “Help, I’m stuck in here.”

Bernfeld, who doubles as an NYPD officer, told the driver that to avoid further injury he would wait on Melville rescue squad personnel to safely remove the seatbelt and free the driver from the vehicle.

Bernfeld climbed through the back window to stay with the driver and keep him calm as they awaited backup.

But the wait was short lived as a fire broke out from underneath the dashboard on the driver’s side.

Bernfeld didn’t hesitate, but instead thought, “I have to get this guy out of here.”

“I tried getting his seatbelt off vigorously at this point, and I couldn’t do it,” Bernfeld said. “I didn’t want to waste any time, so I ran out of the car to my vehicle, grabbed my fire extinguisher and cutters.”

Bernfeld sprayed the fire with the extinguisher and then used the cutters to free the driver from the seatbelt. Bernfeld then dragged the driver out the back of the car moments before the vehicle went up in flames.

Melville firefighters and rescue personnel soon arrived on the scene with two engines, a heavy rescue truck, two ambulances and paramedics, under the command of Chief Chris Nolan.

Firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze as EMT personnel assisted the driver, who was brought to Nassau University Medical Center for treatment of non-life threatening injuries.

Bernfeld is a 15-year member of the Melville Fire Department, joining as a “little kid.”

“I always wanted to be a fireman,” Bernfeld said, “and I guess I never grew out of it.

“I just like helping people.”