Hero in Kuna: One man saves lives with quick actions during several vehicle fires

Michael Van Veghten has stepped in to save four drivers in five years. With a five-pound extinguisher in every vehicle, he’s prepared to help when things get hot.

KUNA, Idaho — The National Fire Protection Association estimates nearly 300,000 vehicles catch fire each year in the United States. 

That’s 33 cars every hour. 

The fire can come from an oil leak, electrical short, or even poor maintenance.

One man in Kuna has seen his fair share, stepping in to save four drivers in five years. 

He isn’t burnt out just yet and is a perfect match for drivers needing help. 

Five years ago, it was Michael Van Veghten’s first interaction with a car fire.

“I was heading through the mountains, I saw a Buick on the side of the road. I saw smoke coming out of it and I hit the dirt and locked up the brakes and jumped out of my truck,” Van Veghten said. 

A small extinguisher wasn’t able to put out the car fire and from that moment on, it ignited Van Veghten’s drive to step in when things get hot. 

“It was something that bothered me that I didn’t do it, as silly as that is,” Van Veghten said. “I just always had one in my vehicle from then, and on a couple of different occasions I just saw people pulling over because their vehicle was smoking.”

Van Veghten said he now carries a large five-pound extinguisher in every vehicle. 

He’s helped a college student with a fire under the hood.

“After we got it out, he looked at me and said, ‘man, my laptop and everything, all my stuff. I have tons of stuff in here that I couldn’t have replaced. Thank you,'” Van Veghten said.

His most recent save came last week, when a woman driving a pilot truck had an oil leak that caught fire as she was driving down the interstate. 

“I jumped out of my truck, grabbed my fire extinguisher, pulled the pin, and ran over there,” Van Veghten said. “Because we were there with fire extinguishers, it was just an oil leak and the fire got put out and there was no significant damage to the vehicle. That truck and all of the equipment, goodness knows how much that all costs, it all got saved.”

Kuna Fire Chief T.J. Lawrence said he hopes more people are like Van Veghten, because it can help prevent a lot of damage.

“It just adds another safety factor, whether it’s your own vehicle or you come across another vehicle that is beginning to catch on fire, or a small grass fire that was caused by vehicle parking on dry grasses,” Lawrence said. “It just gives you an opportunity to help with your extinguisher. You might get that fire extinguished before the fire department even gets there and save property and it’s just a fantastic idea.”

Chief Lawrence said no matter what, call 911 first in any fire situation. 

Then, if the fire is in the beginning stages, an extinguisher works great. If the fire gets too large, don’t risk it. 

Lawrence said if you ever need to use an extinguisher, remember the acronym P.A.S.S.

“It’s called P.A.S.S – you pull the pin, you aim low, squeeze the handle and then you sweep at the base of the fire,” Lawrence said.

After a hot streak of helping people, Van Veghten hopes it will spark the desire for others to step in and do the same. 

“I have had a lot of people help me in my day, a lot of people be there for me when they owed me nothing,” Van Veghten said. “So, what is it a big deal to put a $30-35 fire extinguisher in my truck and be able to help somebody out when I get an opportunity.”

It’s important to note Lawrence said to get an inspection on your extinguisher every year and take time to learn how to use one, so you’re more prepared before stepping in. 

Van Veghten also suggests getting a big extinguisher, so it can do the job and make sure you get a clip for them.

The fire chief said it’s important to have them strapped down in your car to avoid it flying around while driving.

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