Woodbury, Minn. man pulls driver from burning vehicle - KMSP-TV

Woodbury, Minn. man bends door in half, pulls driver from burning vehicle

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When a man's car went up in flames along Interstate 35W in New Brighton on Sunday, it looked like there was no hope of escape until a Woodbury man bent a locked door in half with his bare hands and pulled the driver to safety. A day later, that vehicle would again be named as one of millions recalled by General Motors due to risks of an electrical short that could cause a fire.

MORE: 8.2 million vehicles added to ballooning recall
PDF: Full list of recalled vehicles added June 30

Bob Renning was headed south on I-35W before when he looked into his rear-view mirror and saw something he could barely believe -- a nearby vehicle on fire near County Road D just before 7 p.m.

"There were flames underneath -- underneath the vehicle," Renning recalled.

The driver appeared to be unaware, so he flagged down the man -- Michael Johannes, of Minneapolis. It turned out that the burning vehicle's brakes had gone out, leaving Johannes coasting to a stop while Renning's girlfriend called 911 as the two pulled over.

"That's when things started going wrong inside his car," Renning told Fox 9 News.

Johannes' 2006 Chevy Trailblazer immediately went up in a blaze of flames and smoke, and the Minnesota State Patrol confirmed the electronic locks and windows failed. Johannes tried to kick out the windows, but could not.

"I didn't see him get out," Renning said. "Got about halfway to the car and realized that it was just filled with smoke. Got all the way up the car, and he was just pounding on the passenger-side window, kicking at it, trying to get it to open."

Renning then ran to the SUV and bent the locked door in half from the top down. The window glass shattered in the process, and Renning was then able to reach in and pull Johannes to safety.

"I didn't have anything to break the glass," Renning explained.

Renning was unharmed, and said as an Air National Guard Member for 24 years, his instincts simply kicked in.

"I can't even begin to imagine how he felt inside that car," Renning said.

Johannes suffered minor smoke inhalation and light cuts from being pulled through the shattered window, but the charred hull of his SUV shows how drastically different things may have been if Renning hadn't caught his eye.

"He did an extraordinary deed, bending a locked car door in half of a burning car to extricate a trapped person," trooper Zachary Hill said. "I feel this man deserves any and all commendation for his extraordinary life-saving measure that kept another from burning alive."

Within minutes, Roseville firefighters were on the scene dousing the vehicle, which is now unrecognizable. Yet, Chief Tim O'Neill said in this particular case, "seconds matter" and he commended Renville for doing "exactly what he needed to do."

"Great job," he said. "Those are the type of people you want around you when bad things are happening."

As for Renning, however, he doesn't see himself as a hero. He chalks it up to timing.

"It's not anything that someone else wouldn't have done in the same situation," he said.

The exact cause of Sunday's fire has not been determined, but within the last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommended owners of 2006 Chevy Trailblazers and other recalled SUVs keep their vehicles parked outside after government safety investigators determined that fires could start even when the vehicle is not in use. According to NHTSA, the issue involves a potential fluid leak in the driver's door that could lead to corrosion in the circuit board that could melt components of the door and produce odor, smoke or a fire.

A few months ago, the Fox 9 Investigators took a look crash survival and how difficult it can be to escape from locked windows. Auto glass is particularly resilient and resistant to cracking, but a simple, tiny tool can make the difference between life and death.

MORE: A life-saving keychain

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