VIENNA, VA - Eric Heffelmire had removed a wheel from his truck and was working underneath it, trying to fix some brake lines, when everything started to go wrong. First, the jack that his truck had been on shifted and Eric found himself pinned under the vehicle. Then some gasoline started leaking out around him. But when the leaked gas caught on fire, Eric knew he was in trouble. He tried to struggle free, but it was no use.
Suddenly, into the burning garage rushed his 19-year-old daughter, Charlotte - barefoot, five-foot-six, and weighing only 120 pounds. An Air Force Academy student, she happened to be home for Thanksgiving break. Somehow she managed to not only lift the truck off of her father and drag him to safety, but to also then get into the truck - still on fire - and drive it, on only three wheels, out of the garage and away from the house. She then closed the garage doors to contain the fire, went inside the house to round up her grandmother and 3-month-old niece, got them safely out, and called 911. Then, while waiting for the fire trucks to arrive, she grabbed a nearby hose and began spraying down the house.
Charlotte suffered burns to her hands and feet, but is recovering. She was presented with a Citizen Lifesaving Award on January 7, by the Fairfax County fire department and Rep. Jim Moran. Charlotte doesn't think that she deserves it. "I just did what I had to do, so I don't feel like a big hero or anything," she said. Understandably, there are many people who disagree.
Charlotte's injuries, including one to her back, may keep her from returning to the Air Force Academy, but she still plans on taking a public service job. Whatever she decides to do, I'm sure someone will be happy to employ her! But for now: "I'm just healing up and making sure the family is okay," she said.