Marine Who Rescued Toddler From Burning Car Awarded Highest Noncombat Honor

Marine Car

A little girl was trapped in her parents’ burning car on Dec. 7, 2020, near Camp Pendleton, California. Luckily for the family, Gunnery Sgt. Kyle Wetter was behind them. Screenshot courtesy of the Marine Corps.

Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Kyle Wetter was driving home from Camp Pendleton on Dec. 7, 2020, when the car in front of him burst into flames.

Seconds before, Wetter had seen a gas can fall out of a truck and become wedged between the car and the pavement. Sparks flew and flames erupted around the car. The driver of the burning vehicle hit the brakes and pulled over to the side of the road. Wetter followed suit.

“All I could think at first was what the heck happened?” Wetter said, according to a Marine Corps release. “Immediately, I was like I need to help them any way I can.”

In a ceremony on June 30 at Camp Pendleton, California, Wetter was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his actions more than a year ago, which first responders say likely saved the life of a little girl.

As flames consumed the sedan, Wetter ran from his vehicle with a fire extinguisher in tow. The extinguisher was useless against the raging flames, but Wetter quickly found another way to help. Anthony Hurley, the driver of the burning vehicle, and his wife had escaped the sedan, but their 18-month-old daughter was still stuck in her car seat.

“Seatbelt was locked,” Wetter told local TV station Fox 5 San Diego. “The dad wasn’t going to get it out as much as he tried other than taking the baby out of the seat.”

North County firefighters were on their way, but there was little to no chance they would arrive at the scene in time to rescue the toddler. That’s when the Marine climbed into the burning car to try to help Hurley unbuckle the girl.

“At that point is when I used my pocketknife to cut the car seat belt that was holding the baby’s seat into the car, so the dad could get the car seat out,” Wetter said in a Marine Corps video.

Hurley pulled his daughter free, and Wetter grabbed as many of the family’s belongings from the car as he could before fleeing from the fire.

“It was five minutes in total, and the car was fully engulfed in flames,” Wetter said.

John Choi, fire captain at the North County Fire Protection District, praised Wetter for his heroism.

“It took tremendous courage to go into a burning vehicle to aid this family, and I truly believe if Gunnery Sgt. Wetter didn’t do his actions that day that we would have a different outcome for this child and the family,” Choi said in the Marine Corps video.

Marine Car

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Kyle Wetter spends time with the Hurley family after an award ceremony on Camp Pendleton, California, June 30, 2022. Wetter was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for the heroism he displayed in December 2020 after he saw the Hurley family’s car burst into flames on the side of a road. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andrew Cortez.

The Department of the Navy agreed with Choi’s assessment, awarding Wetter with the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in the ceremony last week at Camp Pendleton. Wetter is the staff noncommissioned officer in charge for the marksmanship training division with the Headquarters and Support Battalion at the base.

Brig. Gen. Jason Woodworth, Camp Pendleton’s commanding general, presented Wetter with the award.

“The Navy and Marine Corps Medal is the only medal you can get in the entire Department of the Navy for acts of heroism without being in a combat situation,” Woodworth said.

Wetter’s family and friends attended the ceremony, as did the Hurley family.

“All I can say is I’m glad he was there that day because he saved our firstborn,” Anthony Hurley said. “She wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for his heroic actions.”

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Jenna Biter has written for regional magazines and digital outlets including on great power competition and special operations medical teams for The National Interest. She is pursuing a master’s degree in national security and is working on speaking Russian. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the US military? Email Jenna.
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