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'Nick O'Time': Bergen Fire Vet, Son Save Driver From Burning Car In Tenafly

James, Michael Pannone
James, Michael Pannone Photo Credit: COURTESY: James Pannone
The Ford Escape in flames.
The Ford Escape in flames. Photo Credit: James Pannone
The Ford Escape in ruins.
The Ford Escape in ruins. Photo Credit: COURTESY: Tenafly PD
The aftermath.
The aftermath. Photo Credit: James Pannone

TENAFLY, N.J. -- A former New Milford and Cresskill firefighter helped rescue a trapped driver from a burning SUV that crashed into a tree in Tenafly late Sunday.

James Pannone said and his 15-year-old son, Michael, were headed home from the movies around 11 p.m. Sunday on Riveredge Road near the Bergenfield border when he swerved around some debris in the road.

"Hey, dad, there's a fire in that yard," Michael told him.

"I hadn't noticed it, so I spun the car around and headed back," the elder Pannone told Daily Voice. "Her car had just started to catch fire."

The driver was headed west on Riveredge Road when she apparently lost control of her Ford Escape on a curve, Capt. Michael deMoncada told Daily Voice.

"The vehicle crossed over the east-bound lanes and crashed into a tree before coming to rest" in the yard of a former Tenafly firefighter, he said.

Pannone used the homeowner's phone to dial 911 as his son tried pulling the woman from the car.

"I went to help him," the elder Pannone said, "but the dashboard was crushed on top of her and we couldn't get to the seatbelt to unhook it."

Sgt. Robert Terranova and Officer Vincent Cooper arrived and cut the belt to get her out while Pannone tamped some of the flames with a small fire extinguisher.

"They got her out just in the nick o'time," he said.

The officers carried the 39-year-old driver from Newark a safe distance so that responding Tenafly Volunteer Ambulance Corps members and paramedics from Englewood could tend to her, deMoncada said.

She was taken to Hackensack University Medical Center with serious injuries, he said.

Pannone credited the officers and his son, who attends Cresskill High School.

"If it wasn't for him," the proud father said, "she wouldn't have made it."

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