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, after the Reef Encounter aquarium supply store opened, when employee Bill Smith looked out the window 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," said Smith. "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 Stanislau Kavolvsky owned was inside that car, including the eight oxygen tanks he needs to breathe. Kavlovsky, 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. Only way I can describe it, it was scary."
Hackensack Fire Department Deputy Chief Matthew Wagner said he "seriously doubted" Kavlovsky 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."
Kavolvsky 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."