Image: NBC Washington
With the family garage up in flames and her father pinned under a pickup track, the teenage girl had just seconds to act. At any moment, the gas tank could explode and engulf the whole house in a fireball – with her niece and grandmother inside.
Image: via The Connection Newspapers
Despite her youth, 19-year-old Charlotte Heffelmire stayed cool and knew that she had to do something. But at just 5 feet 6 inches and only 120 pounds, what could she hope to achieve against such odds? What happened next shows the extraordinary lengths that some people can go to when all that they love is threatened.
Image: YouTube/USA Today
The explosive chain of events began to unfold on November 28, 2015. Charlotte’s father, Eric Heffelmire, was working on his vintage GMC truck at the family’s home in Vienna, Virginia.
Suddenly, the jack slipped, causing the truck to fall. Mr Heffelmire thus found himself trapped underneath the heavy truck.
Straight away, he knew that he was in trouble. “The minute the jack slipped,” he told NBC Washington, “there was an almost instantaneous, real strong smell of gasoline, and then just, whoosh!”
The accident had sparked off a fire that soon threatened to rage out of control. Pinned under the truck, Mr Heffelmire could do nothing except watch.
“We had a bunch of propane containers,” Mr Heffelmire recalled. “And they were cooking off. Just fireballs.”
After him spending ten minutes fighting in vain to free himself, hope arrived for Mr Heffelmire – in the unlikely form of his 19-year-old daughter, Charlotte. Although just a teenager, Charlotte saw immediately what needed to be done.
And what Charlotte did next really is incredible. Despite her small stature, she began to try and lift the heavy truck off her father.
As a former high-school pole vaulter and a student at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Charlotte is no weakling. But it’s still miraculous that, as she strained and strained, the bulky truck slowly began to shift.
Image: via YouTube/World Around
“I felt the weight shift,” said Mr Heffelmire. “And I said, ‘You almost got it,’ and then it was just ‘UGHHHHHHRR!’ and suddenly I’m pulled out.”
But Charlotte’s heroics didn’t end there. The quick-thinking teenager soon realized that if the gas tank in the truck exploded, their whole house could go up in flames.
Leaping into the driver’s seat, Charlotte drove the vehicle out of the garage on its remaining set of three wheels. Once at a safe distance, she then abandoned the vehicle and returned to tackle the blaze.
Still not content to rest, Charlotte was determined to fight the flames. Using a garden hose, she doused the house with water until rescuers arrived.
Thanks to her cool, calm response in the face of danger – not to mention her seemingly superhuman strength – there were no fatalities. Charlotte’s grandmother and three-month-old niece, who had been in the property at the time of the fire, were able to escape unharmed.
Charlotte herself walked away with burns to her hands and feet and a back injury that has so far prevented her from returning to the academy. Her community, however, has been full of praise for her bravery and smart thinking.
In January 2016 Charlotte was honored in a special ceremony. As family members and firefighters looked on, she was given a Citizen Lifesaving Award by Virginia congressman Jim Moran.
For the moment, Charlotte is focusing on the future. “If I can’t do any of the military branches,” she said, “then probably intelligence or government work. Right now I’m just healing up and making sure the family is OK.”
She even hinted that a career in fire rescue wasn’t out of the question. And for the firefighters who applauded her as she received her award, she would no doubt prove a welcome addition to the team.
Throughout history, there have been many stories of people carrying out acts of seemingly superhuman strength in times of crisis. And with Charlotte’s amazing show of heroism and quick thinking under pressure, we can add another one to the list.