An 83-year-old man who set off an inferno when he lit a cigarette inside his car, causing eight oxygen tanks to explode, has a humble bystander to thank for saving his life.
It was just after 11 a.m. Tuesday morning in Hackensack, N.J., when employee Bill Smith looked out the window of the Reef Encounter aquarium supply store and saw a car stopped at a light on Hudson Street. Smoke was billowing out of the car, and the driver was still behind the wheel.
"I didn't have time to think about it, I just kind of reacted," Smith told NBC New York. "I kind of forced him out, dragged him out. He was holding on to the door saying, 'Call the fire department.' He just wouldn't leave the car."
Police said it may have been because virtually everything Stanslau Kavalsky owned was inside that car, including the eight oxygen tanks he needs to breathe. Kavalsky, who appears to be homeless, suffers from emphysema.
Nevertheless, he lit a cigarette inside the car and the canisters ignited. Windows shattered, and people ducked for cover.
"You felt it throughout your whole body," said Smith. "It was very, very loud. It was scary."
Hackensack Fire Department Deputy Chief Matthew Wagner said he "seriously doubted" Kavalsky could have survived the explosion if he had remained in the car.
"With the explosion, the frame of the vehicle was all bent out," said Wagner. "You could see the doors bowed out, twisted and bent from the pressure."
Kavalsky is reportedly in stable condition. Bill Smith, meanwhile, doesn't care for all the talk of heroism.
"I don't know what to say, I definitely wasn't thinking about that at the time," he said. "It definitely feels great. Just did the right thing, that's it."