With absolutely no time to spare…
Phil Johnson keeps saying he is not a hero. In fact, he told The Elberton Star, “I think maybe people are making more out of it than there really is.”
Despite Johnson’s modest denials, the fact is a toddler and possibly her grandmother are still alive today due to his efforts and those of his associate, Aaron Moyer.
Johnson now works for Horace Mann insurance and sells policies at the schools.
“We were at the Blackwell Learning Center that day to check in and talk to the administration,” said Johnson of the reason he was at the scene of the fire.
“We were in the office talking to Sonya Barnett when I heard something about a car on fire and there might be a kid inside or something like that,” said Johnson. “It scared me to death so I just took off.”
Moyer followed Johnson out the door, as did others from the school.
Johnson saw the burning car and headed straight for it.
“It was parked as far away as it could be from the door,” he said.
Johnson said he expected to see flames under the van or near the hood area but these flames appeared to be coming from inside. “When we got there, the seats were on fire and the flames were spreading across the seats,” said Johnson, who said it seemed like there was some substance on the seats causing the flames to move as fast as they did.
Arriving at the car, an elderly lady was screaming, “Somebody save my babies. Get my babies out of the car.” This caused Johnson and Moyer to believe there may have been more than one child in the vehicle.
Johnson could not get the sliding door to work so he went to the passenger side front door and slid the seat back.
“At this time, I can promise you I’m no hero because I was scared to death,” said Johnson.
He then got in the burning van and worked his way between the two front seats.
The first thing he saw once inside the van was the flames coming up the seat.
“Thank God the child was in a car seat because the flames were wrapping around the seat and the hard shell, protecting the child,” said Johnson.
The next thing he noticed, and Johnson attributes God’s intervention in this, was the car seat itself. “It was the same seat my youngest daughter had,” said Johnson. “I give God the credit for that because if you don’t know how the seat works, you can’t get it unfastened,” said Johnson about how different brands and types of seats work differently.
Johnson knew exactly which buttons to press, two of them, which would release the child from the burning car and seat.
At the same time as Johnson was retrieving the toddler, Moyer was searching for a second child, but found none.
The two men handed the child to someone else and then helped the grandmother, who walked with the aid of a walker, make it to safety.
Seconds after reaching a safe distance from the van, an explosion occurred, sending the windows and glass flying.
A second explosion occurred a moment later, this one coming from the gas tank and catching the tree beside the van on fire.
The fire department arrived soon after and extinguished the flames.
Of his efforts, Johnson said he did not do anything anyone else wouldn’t have done. “Nobody is going to sit there and watch a child burn up in a car. I give the credit to God because if He chose me He chose a poor candidate.”
Johnson then stressed how scared he was throughout the ordeal and that he and Moyer called it a day after that experience rather than finish their visit to the other six schools.
“I had to sit down for 20 minutes after it was over and then I got nervous,” said Johnson.
Of course, anybody else may not have been familiar with the car seat and failed.