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Off-Duty Officer Witnesses Car Crash and Burst Into Flames, Races Through Fire to Save Victims

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Many people become first responders because helping others is something that deeply aligns with their character. The job title is just the official way of identifying the fact that they are ready to jump into dangerous situations to help people.

For those individuals, there really is no “off the clock” time, as they’re always prepared to respond first.

Officer Mark Afanasev with the Stockton Police Department is one of those people. He and his wife were out on Saturday in Rancho Cordova, California, when they witnessed a horrific car accident.

One of the cars involved swerved into a pole and immediately erupted in a ball of fire, and like a true hero, Afanasev drove toward it, told his wife to call 911 and charged toward the blaze.

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“I realized that we had to go there to help them because there was nobody else around,” he later told KCRA-TV.

“I’ve never seen anything like that, never been part of anything like that, but the only thing that I could think of was, ‘There’s people in that car. I got to help them get out. I can’t let them, you know, burn in that car.'”

One of the people in the car, a man, was able to get out of the car on his own, but was on fire as he exited the vehicle.

A woman was also in the car but had not been able to get out, so Afanasev quickly escorted her out and away from the flames.

“Here is the video from last night for those that wanted to see it!” Mark’s wife Anna posted on Facebook. “It may be disturbing for some people (guy was on fire) so just be be aware!”

The Afanasevs were stopped at a traffic light that was taking longer than usual due to a recent retiming — which Mark mentioned in the video. Had it not been for that extra little bit of time they waited in the intersection, they might have passed before the accident took place and been unable to help.

“I feel like God put us in that position for a specific reason,” Mark acknowledged. “This is something that is just part of me to help somebody out, especially in something like this, where I’m the only one there.”

Anna echoed the belief that they were there providentially.

“We definitely believe He had greater plans for us being there for an abnormally long period of time!” she commented on her post.

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According to another one of her comments, the man suffered some burns and injured his arm, but “was responsive and conscious.” She also said that her husband “is not one to seek attention or even tell anyone about this but I couldn’t help but share because I saw a different side of him yesterday and it made me appreciate him and his heart so much more!”

Miraculously, no one died in the accident even though the other car flipped several times. Many are calling Mark a hero now, and his actions are receiving widespread commendation.

“On the evening of Saturday, July 17th 2021, off duty Stockton Police Officer Mark Afanasev and his wife were driving when they witnessed a fiery accident,” a Facebook post by the Support Stockton Police Foundation read.

“With no regard for his own safety, Officer Afanasev ran through the fire to assist the two victims. Without the quick response of Officer Afanasev the results could have been more disastrous. Thank you Officer Afanasev for your heroism, on and off duty.”

“I mean every single officer that I know of, every law enforcement officer, every firefighter, every paramedic would have done the exact same thing that I did, given those circumstances, if they were in that position,” Mark argued, “they would do the exact same thing.”

The officer is denying any claim to the “hero” title, but perhaps that’s just because helping people is in his nature.

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Amanda holds an MA in Rhetoric and TESOL from Cal Poly Pomona. After teaching composition and logic for several years, she's strayed into writing full-time and especially enjoys animal-related topics.
As of January 2019, Amanda has written over 1,000 stories for The Western Journal but doesn't really know how. Graduating from California State Polytechnic University with a MA in Rhetoric/Composition and TESOL, she wrote her thesis about metacognitive development and the skill transfer between reading and writing in freshman students.
She has a slew of interests that keep her busy, including trying out new recipes, enjoying nature, discussing ridiculous topics, reading, drawing, people watching, developing curriculum, and writing bios. Sometimes she has red hair, sometimes she has brown hair, sometimes she's had teal hair.
With a book on productive communication strategies in the works, Amanda is also writing and illustrating some children's books with her husband, Edward.
Austin, Texas
Languages Spoken
English und ein bißchen Deutsch
Topics of Expertise
Faith, Animals, Cooking