A rookie firefighter tore a hole in the side of a burning house in Tehachapi Sunday morning to pull a woman to safety by her ankles.
"To be honest, I just did the first thing I thought of," said Paul Arbarquez, the 24-year-old firefighter.
Arbarquez, who was hired by the Kern County Fire Department in September but has been in the field only six months, was working overtime in Tehachapi Sunday morning when fire crews were called to a burning home in the 21200 block of Mission Street at about 6:30 a.m.
Arbarquez pulled a hose to the single-story home's front door but shifted to the side of the house at his captain's command.
He said he focused on subduing heavy smoke and flames pouring from the attic scuttle hole and eaves of the home.
But then Arbarquez heard two knocks and a faint scream from inside the house.
The firefighter dropped to his knees and searched for a way in through the wall. He was able to pull off the siding of the house with his gloved hands and spotted a woman's bare feet inside a bedroom that was engulfed in fire.
"I grabbed her ankles and I pulled her out," between two studs in the wall, Arbarquez said.
The woman was on fire when she emerged from the home. Arbarquez said he put out the flames and then handed off her care to another crew member.
The woman, who suffered severe burns, was taken to San Joaquin Community Hospital by air ambulance. Kern County Fire Engineer and spokesman Corey Wilford said he did not know the woman's name or her condition.
Wilford praised Arbarquez' quick thinking, calling his reaction "exceptional."
"He performed just how we would expect a firefighter to perform," Wilford said.
Firefighters extinguished the blaze, saving about 70 percent of the home, according to a fire department news release. Arbarquez said the fire had spread through what appeared to be the master bedroom and into the attic. The cause of the fire was still under investigation Sunday afternoon.
After the morning rescue, Arbarquez spoke to his wife, Kimberly Arbarquez, and two young children. He returned to Station 12 in Tehachapi, packed his gear and drove to his regular station in Lamont to work another shift, which will end at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning.
"I was just glad that I was there and able to help her out and hopefully save her," Arbarquez said. "Truthfully I was just doing my job."