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Manchester teacher saves man in wheelchair from burning van

Manchester EMS called the Illing Middle School teacher's actions her actions averted an almost certain fatal outcome.

MANCHESTER, Conn. — A middle school teacher helped save the life of a man in a wheelchair Thursday afternoon in Manchester when she pulled him out of a burning van.

"I saw a van pulled over with smoking pouring out of it and the driver was like half hanging out of the car so I stopped to help and when I got there there were flames coming out of the and I was like 'oh are you stuck can I help you?' And he goes 'I’m handicapped I need my wheelchair,'" said Heather Sica-Leonard of Brooklyn.

She is a teacher at Illing Middle School in Manchester, and happened to be driving nearby and saw the car on fire on I-384. She was driving home from a different school and took a different way home.

"I did what I thought anybody would do, if you saw the amount of smoke coming out of his car you would think people would stop and help so to me it just felt like a natural reaction," Sica-Leonard said.

"She immediately stopped, approached the burning vehicle and selflessly got John and his wheelchair out of the car and moved him to safety, all at great personal risk to injury," said Manchester EMS in a Facebook post. "Her actions averted an almost certain fatal outcome and prevented anyone from being injured. Well done Heather!'

Sica-Leonard said she doesn't consider herself a hero, but fire officials said her efforts did in fact save a life. 

"Right person, in the right place, at the right time who made a legitimate difference and saved the day," said Manchester Fire Dept. Battalion Chief Craig Webb. "Preventing any and all injuries and probably avoiding a fatality quite honestly," he said.

"I’m not sure it’s connecting for me yet what the outcome would’ve been if didn’t react because it was just an instinct that if I’m driving by you react," Sica-Leonard said.

She and the man, named John, are both safe. Now, she looks forward to getting to learn more about the life she saved. 

"He’s a veteran I wish I knew more about his service because everyone was asking him so many questions I didn’t dig in more but I’d love to hear more of his stories," Sica-Leonard said.

Officials said the fuel tank ruptured, causing a fuel fire. Some of the fuel entered storm drains, requiring a response from DEEP to assess the damage and coordinate cleanup. 

A GoFundMe has been made for John to replace John's van and regain his independence. If you'd like to donate click here

Gaby Molina is a reporter and anchor at FOX61 News. She can be reached at mmolina@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Doug Stewart is the Senior Digital Content Producer at FOX61 News. He can be reached at dstewart@fox61.com.


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