COBB COUNTY, Ga. — They had to act fast.
When Cobb Police officers Oscar Escarcega and Gallimore responded to an overturned vehicle the Wednesday after Labor Day, all they knew from dispatch was that someone was still inside the car... and it was beginning to burn.
It was just after 8 p.m. when the officers spotted the car along the wood line near South Cobb Drive and Gym Road. It was engulfed in flames.
"I just remember getting out of my car, putting it in park, and as soon as I'm coming out, I just remember seeing a car completely engulfed in flames," Escarcega recounted to 11Alive Wednesday. "There was zero visibility inside."
As the officers and firefighters from the Marietta Fire Department tried to get close to the car, the found the heat and smoke too intense. But they had to get to the woman shouting for help, trapped inside.
A Dobbins Air Force service member spotted the commotion from the base, and jumped the barbed wire fence surrounding it to get to the wreck.
But abruptly, the screams coming from inside the burning car stopped. Time was ticking.
"I just remember looking at the car, and you have this helpless feeling that you want to do something, but it was engulfed in flames," Escarcega recalled.
Two Marietta firefighters from Engine 55 moved to the passenger side of the car with a hose, and shouted that they could see the woman, still trapped inside.
That's when officer Escarcega jumped the concrete barrier in his way and ran to the driver's side of the car.
"Something inside of me said, 'You need to do something'," Escarcega recalled. "I just can't stand here and watch this scene. I gotta get in there."
A firefighter was able to get the door open, and Officer Escarcega reached into the burning vehicle without hesitation - though the heat was intense and it was hard to breathe - and pulled the woman out. He and the firefighter carried the woman away from the car to safety on the other side of the concrete barrier.
"I just said, 'let's move'," Escarcega said.
Paramedics began treating the woman's blistered skin immediately before rushing her to Grady Memorial Hospital, where she's being treated for severe burns.
Though some time has passed, the Cobb County Police Department is taking a moment to recognize Escarcega for the act of heroism.
"Officer Escarcega put his own safety on the line to save the life of a complete stranger," the department said. "Without his bravery, it is unlikely that the female would have survived the wreck. The Cobb County Police Department would like to commend Officer Escarcega for his incredible act of bravery."
During an interview Wednesday, Escarcega reflected on the intense moments. When asked whether he ever thought his life might be in danger, he said without hesitation, "It was just one of those things where you don't think about your safety, you think about saving somebody."
"My main concern was we need to help this girl trapped in this car," he added.
And even though Escarcega has only been with the department for one year, he's wanted to be a police officer "ever since I can remember," he said. "It's been my dream to be a police officer."
A dream that he believes was no accident, because, while it was a team effort between him and the firefighters, it brought him to that scene to that car to help that woman for a reason: "That day, God had me there."
Escarcega said he hasn't yet gotten to speak to the woman herself, but he did get a letter from her family, saying she is stable, but still critical.
"It just made my day, because just from looking at the scene, when they pulled that car away, there was no drivers seat, the steering wheel was melted, the entire front dashboard was gone," he explained. "To know that she's recovering and she's alive is a good feeling."
Asked why he did it, it came down to this: "If I had a loved one in that car, I would want public safety personnel to do everything in their power to get to that individual."