Anchorage Police Department officer Mitchel Veenstra had just started his shift Sunday afternoon when was notified by dispatch there was a man trapped in a burning vehicle. When he arrived at the scene, he found a man trapped in an overturned Toyota 4Runner, with his arm stuck underneath the passenger door. Flames were coming from the engine compartment.


“You just [had] to start doing something about it because we were running out of time,” said Veenstra.


He first tried to lift the SUV with a few bystanders, but it barely moved. In the dash-cam video from his police car, the man inside can be heard screaming for help. Veenstra then called for a few other people nearby to assist him and they managed to lift the SUV just enough for the man to escape through the sunroof.


“I didn’t think it was going to turn out the way it did, honestly,” said Veenstra.


In his first public interview since the incident, he was quick to credit the citizens for helping save the man’s life.


“They stepped up and they put themselves there in the line of fire — literally,” said Veenstra.


During the past few days, the story has garnered national attention. Many people have been posting the video to Veenstra’s Facebook page, but he said he avoids watching it because it was so stressful.


“It actually happened really quickly. Things were over before we knew it. But when you’re in the midst of it, time definitely slows down,” said Veenstra.


He said on many days police officers see the worst in people. Sunday’s incident, however, was just the opposite.


“To me, the most amazing thing is just seeing the type of people that we have here in Anchorage that are willing to help a complete stranger,” said Veenstra.