‘I cannot let her die’: Fla. FF jumps back in burning Uber to rescue girlfriend
Bryan Aparicio and his girlfriend, Sue, were two of five people injured in the fuel tanker blaze
By Angie DiMichele, Shira Moolten
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Aparicio and his girlfriend were riding in an Uber along Interstate 95 Tuesday afternoon, looking forward to their cruise vacation, when the car they were in became immersed in flames.
Aparicio, a Broward Sheriff’s Office Fire Rescue firefighter, and his girlfriend were among the five people injured in a fiery crash involving a fuel tanker truck in Delray Beach that created a chain reaction of disaster on the highway, shutting it down for hours.
Aparicio, 27, who is assigned to Station 10, put his professional training into action when he rescued his girlfriend from the car, suffering “significant burns” to his face, arms and legs as a result, said Jason Smith, president of the Broward County Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association, International Association of Firefighters Local 4321.
The crash came after a car swerved into the path of the fuel tanker near the Atlantic Avenue exit, causing both to veer into the inside shoulder and the fuel tanker to flip onto its right side, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. The Uber driver with Aparicio and his girlfriend inside attempted to avoid hitting the two vehicles, ultimately slamming into the median wall, which then caused a light pole to fall and hit two other cars going in the opposite direction.
A total of 75 firefighters from Delray Beach, Boca Raton, and Palm Beach County Fire Rescue worked to put out the multiple fires caused by the fuel spill, according to Dani Moschella, a spokesperson for Delray Beach Fire Rescue.
Aparicio and his girlfriend were sitting in the back seat of the Uber when he heard his girlfriend scream, said Eric Solera, a fellow firefighter and friend.
“He looked out, and the next thing he saw was a wall of fire around the vehicle,” Solera said.
The compartments of the fuel tanker broke, oil spilling out and catching fire, he said. The car doors would not open, and Aparicio broke one of the back windows with his shoulder and head.
Aparicio was able to exit the car with only moderate burns, Solera said. But his girlfriend didn’t follow him.
“At this point, you have fire all around the car, you have black smoke all around him and visibility is zero ... He lost contact with his girlfriend and he said, these are his words, ‘I cannot let her die,’” Solera said.
So he went back for her. Reaching his upper body through the smashed window, he felt around for her body, Solera said, and he pulled her out.
“He’s a very humble person,” Solera said. “He doesn’t seek for recognition or anything, and what he did was out of sheer love to his girlfriend and being an exceptional human being and a true hero.”
Three of the five injured are in critical condition. The victims were taken to Delray Beach Medical Center Tuesday, and one person was immediately taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Miami Burn Center. A second person has since been transported to the burn center, said Stacy Weiss, a spokesperson for Delray Beach Medical Center.
The driver who hit the fuel tanker truck, the truck driver and the Uber driver also sustained injuries as a result of the crash, according to FHP. All three of those vehicles were engulfed in flames.
Lt. Indiana Miranda, a spokesperson for FHP, said the tanker truck was not the “at-fault” vehicle.
“The car cut him off, that’s what’s believed,” Miranda said.
Smith said Aparicio’s swift rescue of his girlfriend is a testament to “his integrity, his desire and his heart.”
“It was an instant that happened so fast, he recognized that they were trapped and saw that his girlfriend couldn’t get out as well, and he did everything he could …. His actions show that he was going to risk his life, no question, to make sure hers didn’t come to an end,” Smith said.
His girlfriend suffered second- and third-degree burns to her legs and hands, a GoFundMe page created by Solera says, and is hospitalized in critical condition at Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Miami Burn Center.
“His heartbeat is his girlfriend that was next to him, and when he came to awareness, clearly he went into action, which is what he trains for, which is what he responds to all the residents and visitors of Broward County with every day,” Smith said.
Smith said Aparicio was in an intensive care unit as of Wednesday afternoon and may be transferred to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Miami Burn Center.
“He’s just a young man that is always smiling, he’s always available, he has a can-do attitude,” Smith said. “I think all of the attributes of his family raising him and the career path that he’s chosen, he clearly emboldens what we are as firefighters and paramedics ... He showed what our commitment is to others, so very selfless, and we’re proud of him,” Smith said.