U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent Chris Pandolfi vividly remembers feeling the heat on his back and then bracing himself for the impact of flying objects from an exploding car.
What led to those intense moments occurred on Feb. 25 when Pandolfi, who has been with ICE since 2009, and Vermont State Police Detective Sergeant Karl Gardner were traveling on a busy stretch of Interstate 89 in Middlesex, Vermont, en route to a heroin bust. The two noticed a van in the breakdown lane that was on fire. While they initially stopped to control traffic and provide assistance, through the flames they saw elderly man at the rear of the van.
Their pleas for the man to move away from the van received no response. As the man sat on the embankment behind the vehicle, Pandolfi and Gardner moved in closer to help -- without hesitation or fear.
The man had previously suffered a stroke and was unable to walk. Pandolfi and Gardner were able to help move him to a safe location until fire and rescue squad personnel arrived on the scene.
“Initially we didn’t know if someone was in the car, but Karl and I were definitely on the same page. We immediately went over to the car to help the man,” Pandolfi said. “I’m pretty sure any other agent in that situation would’ve done the same thing.”
The entire ordeal lasted about an hour and, fortunately for Pandolfi, the car didn’t explode while they were near by. After authorities arrived and took over the scene, Pandolfi and Gardner continued on to their original mission. It wasn’t until he got home and had a chance to take a deep breath and reflect on seeing the images of the car engulfed in flames that the realization of the events of the day hit home.
“I definitely thought to myself ‘that was crazy,’” Pandolfi said. “In this job, you have to be mentally and physically prepared for things that the everyday citizen may not be prepared to do.”
As a police officer for 14 years before joining ICE, Pandolfi has been a part of his share of rescue efforts. It is because of his experience and preparation that he never wavered that afternoon on the side of the road in Vermont.
“I just kept telling myself that I needed to stay focused,” Pandolfi said. “Maybe it was just instincts, but I would do the same thing again.”