WEST MILFORD, N.J. -- Lukas Graf, 19, was in the right place at the right time.
After 11 p.m. on Saturday, Graf picked up his sister from a friend's house. At first, his sister sent him the wrong address. A short time later, Graf wound up on Cahill Cross Road and was headed home. That's where he spotted a car down in a ditch, flipped over and on fire.
Graf has been a volunteer fire firefighter in West Milford for two years, but he was off-duty at the time and without his gear. So he dumped a couple of bottles of water over the flames to try to slow down the fire until firefighters could arrive. That's when he heard banging coming from inside the car.
"He was saying, 'Help, help! Get me out!' So I went around behind the car and opened the back hatch and grabbed his hand and pulled him out," Graf said.
Minutes later, when firefighters arrived, the car was already fully engulfed.
"From everybody I spoke to at the scene, if Lukas wasn’t there, I don’t think the gentleman would have made it," West Milford Fire Co. 3 Chief Michael Blondin said.
Graf is a full-time college student who is studying to be a civic engineer. He juggles advanced calculus and physics courses at Passaic County Community College while volunteering for the fire department.
"I do it for the good of the community," Graf said. "I’ve always looked up to firefighters ever since I was a young age and always wanted to be one."
Graf’s sister, who witnessed the rescue, has now been inspired to volunteer. She and a friend, both 16 years old, are the newest junior firefighters.
"She’s proud of me," Graf said. "I can just see it in her. Just by the way she went to the fire department and said, 'I want to join' and 'I kind of want to be like my big brother.'"
The driver in that car is expected to be OK, thanks to Graf's heroic actions.
"We’re very lucky to have volunteers like him in town. Very lucky," Blondin said.