FAIRFIELD - An off-duty firefighter and a good samaritan are being hailed as heroes Thursday after they saved a man from a burning car.

The single-vehicle accident happened between exits 42 and 44 on the Merritt Parkway on Wednesday night.

New Canaan Fire Department firefighter Michael Sasser, who was off-duty at the time, was first on the scene. He saw the crash and jumped out of his truck to check on the victim.

"I noticed there was still a victim in the car," Sasser says. "The patient was still trapped in the car with his seatbelt on, thank God for that."

When Sasser reached the car he saw flames burning into the passenger compartment. Since he was off-duty, he did not have any rescue tools and decided to pry the door open with his bare hands. At that time, another motorist joined him carrying the tool he needed in his pocket.

"I yelled back for a knife, so we can cut the seatbelt off the gentleman," Sasser says. "Luckily the guy had one on him and we pretty much tugged him out of the car."

The victim was pulled from the car and taken to safety seconds before the car was completely engulfed in flames. The man who has been identified as Thomas Connelly, a Shelton resident, was unconscious, but breathing on his own.

Connelly was taken to Saint's Vincent's Medical Center, where he's listed in critical condition. Despite rescuing Connelly before the vehicle caught fire, Sasser says he's not the real hero.

"I would say the real hero in this situation is the seatbelt," Sasser says. "I mean that's what really saved his life."