Herculano Tucay trains people to save lives, but Monday it was his turn to be a hero.
Tucay, 36, who had just finished an overnight shift at American Medical Response in Tulare County, was driving home around 9 a.m. when he saw an oncoming Ford pickup burst into flames.
The pickup, which was southbound on Clovis Avenue near Montecito Street in southeast Fresno, veered off the road and slammed into an apartment building.
Tucay sprang into action. First he blocked southbound traffic with his pickup, then he sprinted across the road and pulled the driver from the Ford, which was fully engulfed in flames and starting to set the building on fire.
A passenger in the pickup managed to escape as Tucay ripped a burning shirt off the driver. Fearing the truck might explode, Tucay then pulled the driver farther from the fire as on-duty rescue workers arrived.
Tucay then ran into the apartment and made sure everyone was out and safe.
Tucay, who has been involved in emergency work for 20 years, said Monday's harrowing events were a first for him.
His act of heroism won a quick round of handshakes from arriving firefighters.
"It's the story of the day," Fresno Fire spokesman Sean Johnson said.
Because of extensive damage to the inside of the truck, Johnson said, investigators have not been able to pinpoint what started the fire. But the victims had just finished using a gas-powered hedger and placed it in the back seat next to fertilizer and other combustibles, Johnson said.
Johnson said it's possible that heat from the still-warm hedger ignited the fertilizer and could have ruptured a small onboard gas tank on the lawn equipment.
The driver and the passenger both suffered burn injuries, according to the Fresno Fire Department. The extent of their injuries was unknown. The fire displaced two people in the apartment building.
At the Visalia office where Tucay trains emergency response workers, his supervisor, T.J. Fischer, said Tucay's actions were no surprise.
"That's the kind of guy he is," she said. "He knows his role as an EMT and applies it well."
This isn't the first time Tucay has been recognized for saving a life. In 1998, he was honored at an American Ambulance reunion of patients and emergency workers.
He was cited as the "angel" who helped transport 3-month-premature baby Cecelia Kinder from Hanford Hospital to then-Valley Children's Hospital.
"You risk your life for the life of a stranger," he said at the time. "It makes you appreciate what you have at home. It's very humbling."