Teacher rescues man, his wheelchair from burning car

Published: Feb. 25, 2023 at 2:11 AM EST
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MANCHESTER, Conn. (WFSB/Gray News) - A Connecticut school teacher pulled a man and his wheelchair out of a burning car on Thursday.

The Manchester Fire Department said what she did saved the man’s life.

Heather Sica-Leonard was heading home from work not knowing she would save someone’s life in an incredibly heroic way.

The Illing Middle School teacher was pulling onto a ramp on I-384 when she saw a car pulled over with smoke coming out of it and the driver hanging from the door.

“I saw the smoke. I didn’t see the fire. So I’m like is something broken down and smoking? And then why is he not out of the car yet. Something just didn’t sit right with me,” Sica-Leonard says.

The fire started inside the van, but the timing of the rescue was everything.

“I said, ‘Oh my goodness. Are you stuck? How can I help you?’ And he said, ‘I’m handicapped, I need my wheelchair,’” Sica-Leonard described.

She grabbed the man’s wheelchair and rushed him to safety.

Moments later, the van burned to the ground. Officials believe the fire started after the van’s fuel tank ruptured.

Now, Sica-Leonard is being called a hero.

“Truly, her seconds of quick thinking literally saved this man. Hero is a word we use kind of lightly in today’s society, but this was truly a heroic event, this woman saving this man’s life,” Manchester Fire Rescue EMS battalion chief Gordon Macmillan said.

Sica-Leonard’s instincts kicked in during an intense situation.

“The stars aligned that he happened to have this event at the same time I happened to be in that space, and so the outcome was the outcome that was intended. A vehicle can be replaced. People can’t,” Sica-Leonard says.

Sica-Leonard said she hopes people find it in themselves to stop and help if they see someone in distress.

She has been in contact with the man’s daughter, who said he is doing OK.