When Timo Klotz saw the smoke and the gaping hole from across the street, he sprinted towards Ireland’s Four Courts.
“I ran across the intersection right there and followed the hole into the building, to go inside,” Klotz told ARLnow, a few days after a car barrelled into the Courthouse pub, critically injuring several people. “As soon as I saw what happened, I was like ‘I need to help.'”
A volunteer firefighter and EMT in Fairfax County with a job in emergency management, Klotz knew he had only a matter of seconds. Sifting through the wreckage, alongside Four Courts customers who also put themselves in harm’s way to help the injured, he helped pull people out of the pub and got them to safety only moments before the inferno engulfed the bar.
If it wasn’t for Klotz’s quick thinking and instincts, the situation might have been a whole lot worse.
“If it would have been 20 seconds more, yeah,” he said, trailing off a bit. “I don’t think they would have made it out.”
The fateful moment — last Friday, Aug. 11, around 6:45 p.m. — will be long etched in the memories of those who were there. A rideshare driver plowed a car into Ireland’s Four Courts at the end of a “T” where N. Courthouse Road and Wilson Blvd intersect. A total of 15 people were injured with three still remaining in the hospital. One person is still in critical condition, as of the last update from Arlington County police.
It remains unclear what led to the crash. Police said the driver is cooperating with authorities, didn’t do it intentionally, and alcohol was not a factor.
“The cause of the crash remains under active investigation and detectives continue to collect and review evidence and speak with witnesses to determine the events that preceded the crash,” an ACPD spokesperson told ARLnow yesterday (Thursday).
What is clear, though that the actions of Klotz and others likely saved lives.
Friday was Klotz’s last day working for the Arlington County Circuit Court before moving to a new job with Fairfax County’s Department of Emergency Management. So, he and several colleagues decided to have a going-away party down the street from his office, at Four Courts.
It was about 6:30 p.m. when he stepped out of the pub to move his car out of a parking garage that was set to close for the weekend. Klotz retrieved his car and parked it on N. Courthouse Road near Bayou Bakery. While getting out, that’s when he heard a loud bang.
“There’s always a lot of noise [around there], so I really didn’t make anything out of it,” he said.
But then he started hearing people screaming and seeing lots of commotion. Then, a person on the street said a car had ran into a building. Klotz ran and saw the bar he had been in only a few minutes earlier now had smoke pouring out of a large, jagged hole.
That’s when he made the split-second decision to go inside and help. Klotz told ARLnow that when he entered through the hole made by the Toyota Camry, he was stunned at what he saw.
“I couldn’t even make out that there was a car in there. There was ceiling, wires, cables, tables… everywhere,” Klotz said. “It was demolished. Like a bomb went off.”
Then he saw a person on the ground to his right. He helped that person up but saw another trapped under debris. Before he could even help them, he caught a glimpse of another person, bloody, lying on the ground.
“There’s people everywhere,” he said. “At that moment… I was almost overwhelmed to the point of thinking ‘what am I going to do? There’s so many people.'”
But Klotz’s instincts kicked in. As a volunteer firefighter, he had seen fires grow fast. As the smoke turned hot and flames started shooting out of the debris, Klotz knew there was one thing that had to happen now.
“We have a fire. We need to get people out,” he said, remembering that moment.
He said a police officer was right behind him and they both started pulling people out of the debris. There were one, two, and maybe a third person that they pulled from the debris, handing them off to another person who was helping so they could be ushered to safety across Wilson Blvd to the median. All the while, the smoke kept getting heavier and the blaze hotter.
“The fire just started to get bigger, bigger, bigger. To tell you the truth, I didn’t think it was going to go as fast as it went,” Klotz said.
At some point, the fire became too hot and Klotz knew it was time that he had to exit the building. At that point, though, everyone was out.
Klotz went across to the median to check on those he helped pull out. When first responders heard Klotz was a firefighter and experienced with being EMT, they gave him a pack. He started to bandage up the injured. Soon, when more EMTs arrived, they took over and Klotz finally had a chance to take a breath and digest what had happened.
All in all, from when he first ran in to when he was sitting on the median, Klotz estimated that only about 4 to 5 minutes had elapsed.
In terms of his own health, Klotz said he’s doing okay. He still has a cough from the smoke as well as a headache, but that has mostly subsided. He had a few minor cuts too. Since his hands and arms were covered in others’ blood, he will continue to be monitored for exposure. Everyone that had come to his going-away party got out okay as well and none were among the critically injured.
Over the last week, Klotz has thought a lot about those few minutes. What if he hadn’t gone to move his car? What if he didn’t run towards the disaster? What if he wasn’t an experienced firefighter? What if they had moved just a bit slower getting people out?
“The outcome that nobody died and people got out of there, to me that is amazing,” he said.
That first image of what he described as looking like a “bomb went off” inside of Ireland’s Four Courts has stuck with him — and he expects it will for the rest of his life.
“It really shocked me,” he said. “It’s the worst I’ve ever seen and probably will ever see.”
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