HME driver attempts heroic rescue

Thursday, September 30, 2004

MENTOR, Ohio - On Aug. 3, Jose Davis stopped at a Speedway gas station/convenience store for a 16-ounce bottle of orange juice. It was a little after 9 a.m., and the Hytech Homecare driver/technician had just started his day.

As he was getting into his truck, he saw a man at the pump limp away from his car and fall down.

“I thought his falling down was related to his limp,” said Davis, 40. “I turned my head to get into my truck, and then I turned my head back to him. Once he stood up it looked like someone hit him with a flame thrower. He was engulfed. He was completely on fire, from his head to his toes.”

Davis jumped out of his truck and started to scream “like a mad man.”

“I ran toward him and realized there wasn’t a lot I could do,” Davis said. “I ran back to my truck. I was hollering, ‘Fire! fire! There is a man on fire!’ People were looking at me. Initially, they didn’t understand what I was saying because I was in a panic.”

Davis ran back to the man, who had struggled to a grassy area near the street curb where he lay on the ground. Davis snatched off his shirt and T-shirt and jumped on top of the man.

“He was completely on fire,” Davis said. “I was patting him and trying to put him out, but it got really hot so I had to get off. Then I started to swing my shirts and put the fire out that way, but it didn’t work so I had to stop for a minute.”

Miraculously, Davis was unburned.

The smell of the burning man was like nothing Davis had ever encountered: “clothes and flesh and ... something live on fire.” The man’s shoes, shirt and pants had burned off. Skin hung from his face and hands. In other areas, the man’s skin began to burst open the way tomatoes do when they are overcooked.

Davis started to swing his shirts again. Suddenly, he heard a car screech to a stop on the street behind him. A man jumped out of the car with an army blanket and a baby blanket. Davis and the man threw the blankets over the burning man and continued to “pat and pat and pat and pat.”

“We got it out for the most part,” Davis said. “Except for his groin area. He was still smoldering quit a bit and he wouldn’t be still. Every time he moved from where we had him covered up it was like the oxygen would ignite him again.”

The fire department showed up at about that time and used an extinguisher to put out what flames remained. Throughout the ordeal the burning man never issued a sound.

A day or so latter, Davis heard that the man had doused himself with gasoline and torched himself, that it wasn’t an accident as he had initially thought. A few days after the incident the man died.

“I think about him from time to time,” Davis said. “I have to pass by there every day going to and from work. Where he fell down on the grass, there is a burned out area. I wonder what he was going through that lead him to that end. If he had kids and what his family thought about it. How did he get to that?”