FAIRFIELD -- Four Little League coaches are being praised for their quick action Thursday night in coming to the aid of a 23-year-old Fairfield University student who was covered in flames after his sport-utility vehicle caught fire in the parking lot of Tunxis Hill Park.
Witnesses at the Little League game said they heard a popping, explosion-like sound and turned to see a man, screaming and running toward them, engulfed in flames, while his Chevrolet Tahoe burned about 200 feet behind him.
The four coaches -- Jim Carolan, Vincent Giacomazza, John Pierce and Peter Porazzo -- saw the fire, sprinted from the field at the Melville Road park, leapt a fence to the parking lot, then grabbed a blanket to cover the man, identified Friday by police as Justin Hervey.
Carolan said he and the other coaches instructed Hervey to "stop, drop and roll" to extinguish the flames.
"The thing I was most impressed with was the composure of the coaches," Carolan said. "They instructed the guy to roll ... it's what they teach the kids in school."
Hervey, of Armonk, N.Y., remained in critical condition in the Bridgeport Hospital burn unit. While police said the injuries are "grim and severe," they added the burns could have been worse if not for the help provided by the coaches and others at the field.
The fire is believed to have started inside the SUV; Hervey was conscious when emergency personnel arrived.
Giacomazza was treated Thursday at a walk-in clinic for burns to his hands and arms.
Assistant Fire Chief Scott Bisson said the coaches' actions "were heroic and should be applauded as they risked their personal safety to help another person in need."
Police Chief Gary MacNamara also praised the efforts of the coaches, saying they gave Hervey a chance to survive.
Mike Horyczun, Fairfield University's director of media relations, in a statement, confirmed that Hervey was a part-time student at the college, and he suffered very serious injuries in the car fire.
"The university community has been asked to keep Justin and his family in their thoughts and prayers," he said.
Horyczun said the university is monitoring Hervey's situation very closely and extended support to his family. "The office of Counseling and Psychological Services has offered support to students who may need assistance in dealing with this difficult situation," he said.
While police said Hervey was lucky the coaches were there to help them, MacNamara said it was "horrific" that the children playing at the field had to witness the "tragic" scene.
"Unfortunately many of them had a clear view of this," Carolan, the team's manager, said Friday morning. "The kids were very shaken up. It's not something a kid or adult ever wants to see. It was awful they had to see it."
Carolan credited two parents for moving the children to centerfield, away from the flames.
Sgt. Suzanne Lussier, spokeswoman for the Fairfield police, said the students were ages 10 to 12 and were playing in the Little League fall program. They are from Fairfield Woods Middle School and Jennings Elementary School, she said.
Fairfield Woods Principal Gary Rosato, in an email to parents, said each sixth-grade homeroom teacher addressed the incident with their classes as a whole in order to allow students an opportunity to talk about it.
The three guidance counselors and other support staff have been talking with individual students and parents "as the need arises."
Rosato addressed the entire sixth grade at lunch in order to acknowledge the event, alleviate some anxiety, and offer the help of the various adults in the building if students want to talk further. "All things considered -- the students and teachers are handling it well," the principal said.
School officials are prepared to offer counseling to students upset by the incident.
Hervey's clothes were burned off his body and he suffered "significant" burns, MacNamara said.
The fire, which started around 6:10 p.m., is being investigated by police detectives and the fire marshal.
Bisson said the fire was shooting out of the Tahoe windows when he arrived. Debris, including glass and pieces of the car's exterior were scattered around.
Witnesses noticed the fire's unusual extremeness, saying "something was keeping the fire burning."
Carolan also said he noticed the explosion's sound was different than what he expected.
"It didn't sound like the movies," Carolan said. "It was more of an air explosion, then the cabin was on fire and the windows exploded 30 feet. There was glass everywhere."
Carolan said he saw the car running as he pulled into the parking lot, about five minutes before the explosion.
"I thought he was getting ready to leave," he said.