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"Magnificent Seven" Tampa police officers who save man from burning car

7:20 AM, Jun 17, 2013   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida - Seven may be Ruben Perry's lucky number. The father of seven was saved from his burning car by seven Tampa Police Officers, just in time for Father's Day.

"He was coming with us or we weren't coming out... he was coming out," Officer Dwight Vinkemulder says.

With that determination, Vinkenmulder -- one of the Magnificent Seven, as their fellow officers now call them -- saved 35-year-old Ruben Perry.

Around 9:30 Saturday night, police say Perry was headed north on 22nd Street and Cayuga Street when he appeared to cross the center lane. A car heading south struck Perry's passenger side, starting a fire in the engine compartment.

"Open the door, he's trapped, wedged in between the dash board and the seat like a cocoon," recalls Officer James Byrne. "He was trapped, we couldn't get him out."

As three officers try to free an unresponsive Perry from his 1984 Monte Carlo, the other four officers use fire extinguishers to buy them time.

The fire grows, and so does the smoke.

"As much as they were trying to pull him out, they're gagging and coughing every moment in there," says James Parsons.

The men are running out of fire extinguishers and time, but then they have a break.

"They're pulling. As soon as they pulled him out and said they're free, that's when my fire extinguisher - my second fire extinguisher - runs out," says Officer John Stanjeski.

Shawn Purcell was one of the three officers trying to free Perry. He says, "We all yank him out 10 feet from the fire, we collapsed 10 feet away. We looked up, the car's engulfed in flames."

The officers say they have never experienced anything like this before. Vinkenmulder says, "Nothing tops knowing we saved that man, returned him to his family."

Parsons says, "We all left, feeling we really did our jobs today."

Six of the seven officers were treated for smoke inhalation, and are already back to work.

Ruben Perry's resting at home. His family says they are very private and do not wish to go on camera, but say Perry and his family are very grateful to the officers for risking their lives to save his. 

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Officers rescue man from burning car

Isabel Mascarenas

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