San Diego Spotlight
Meet a Volunteer

Burn Institute Award Winner: Volunteer Firefighter Philip Mainini

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Burn Insitute Award Recipient Mainini

Their reflection kept drawing his eye to the side mirror. A teenager and an older man some distance behind his car struggled with a gas can. He stretched his legs, his Miramar College Fire Technology uniform rustling.

“They’re probably having some car trouble,” Philip Mainini thought. “I guess I’ll see if I can help.”

He jumped a bush barricade and trotted over to the middle of a Home Depot driveway where they were. “Excuse me sir, do you need help?”

Then all hell broke loose.

“He’s trying to light himself on fire!” the teenager yelled, still struggling to restrain the man. “Help!” Indeed, the older man had a five gallon gas can zip-tied to his arm and had poured gasoline over himself.

Philip dialed 911 and tossed his phone to the young man, telling him to get out of the way and stay on the line with dispatch.

Time slowed as Philip focused, talking and trying to soothe the agitated man.

“Stay Away! I don’t want to hurt you!” the man yelled repeatedly, edging into the parking lot and towards the crowd that had formed. Not the best situation to calm someone’s nerves.

Philip MaininiPhilip Mainini

A Boston native, Philip wants to spend his life “doing something meaningful and I truly believe that being in the fire service is a meaningful job.”

He is currently in the Miramar College Fire Technology program, working as a volunteer firefighter with Jamul station 36, has a full time job bartending, and is halfway through a civil engineering degree.

His “ten-year” plan? To continue to improve and direct his skills towards fire prevention measures for cities, including safer building construction methods.

Philip talked for what seemed like hours, but was probably five minutes. He was making no progress. Just as he decided that tackling and subduing was the final alternative, the man took out a lighter, dropped to his knees in the puddle of gasoline, and flicked it open. Flames engulfed him.

This is the moment when most people would retreat, but after the initial burst, Philip leaned into the man, trying to put out the flames. “Gas fires burn fast and hot, and then they die down, because their fuel is spent,” Philip says. “I got a little singed, but I had my uniform on and it’s fire resistant.”

Philip yelled to the crowd for water bottles and blankets, then tried to pat out the flames. The cotton blanket he was using caught fire, but at that moment someone in the crowd handed him water bottles. He dumped the water on the blanket and then continued to protect the man’s face from the smoldering flames and keep his airway clear.

One of classmates, Brendon Simmons, happened to be driving by and stopped to help. “I was glad to have someone I knew and trusted to back me up.” Together they worked to put the fire out. A gas station attendant across the street ran over with an extinguisher, finally dousing the flames.

“Fire does horrible things to a person’s skin. It becomes like plastic. But you don’t think about that. You have a job to do, and that’s to help this person, no matter what.” Working together, he and Brendon placed the man into a recovery position to keep his airway open and cut away the clothes that had melted to his skin. “They were like a noose around his neck. They had to go.”

The EMT transport team arrived and together Philip and Brandon along with the newly arriving EMTs and fire personnel packaged the man and prepared the ambulance for transport.

Philip will tell you that it’s the training that got him through it. “Firefighters almost never see the beginnings of an emergency response, so this was a unique situation. I think about it all the time. I don’t think I’ll ever run into anything I can’t handle now.”

Sadly, the burn victim died in the hospital. His injuries were too severe.

Philip’s instructors, City of Coronado Fire Captain Darren Hall and CalFire Chief John Kremensky nominated him and Brendon for the Burn Institute Spirit of Courage Awards. “I was honored to get the award,” Philip said. “But I’m not sure I deserved it. I did what I had to do. I think the kid was the hero. He noticed the man in passing and stopped him until help could arrive.”

After the awards ceremony, Fire Authority representatives shared that the family of the burn victim had contacted them and said that the man had originally intended to walk into Home Depot and set it on fire because he claimed they kept blocking the fire doors. A lot of lives may have been saved that day because people volunteered to get involved.