Phillippi, who is hailed as a good Samaritan for trying to help a man whose car wouldn't start and was severely burned in the process, said he is not a hero. The man from a neighboring business is the real hero.
Phillippi said Mario Martinez heard his screams, rushed to his aid and threw a blanket over his burning body.
Phillippi, who lost his right ear, incurred lung damage, some nerve damage and sustained third degree burns to 40 percent of his upper body and lost his part of his left pinkie finger, is back in Carlsbad where he continues to receive physical and other therapy.
Recalling that day on Nov. 22, Phillippi, who at the time owned New Mexico Hydraulics on South Canyon Street, said a man came into his shop and asked him to help get his truck started. It had had died in front of the business establishment.
"It turned out he had run out of gas," Phillippi said. "I put some gas in the gas tank but the older model truck wouldn't start. So I did what I have done a 100 times and a lot of mechanics still do, I poured some gasoline on the carburetor. The man started up the engine and it back-fired through the carburetor. Everything caught on fire. I was holding the gas can in my left hand and when the fire broke out, I bending still bending over under hood of the truck. I threw up my arm with the gas can still in my hand. It poured on top of me and down my right side and I caught on fire."
Phillippi said he recalls screaming, and his screams were heard by Martinez, who at the time was fork lift driver National Oil Well on South Main Street.
Since then, Martinez has left his job there and is currently serving as a police officer with the Lovington Police Department. Martinez could not be reached for comment.
"I remember Mario throwing a blanket on me and extinguishing the fire on my body. I thought I was going to die. It's still very vivid in my memory. To say the least, it was a very memorable experience," said Phillippi, who has not lost his sense of humor and has a positive outlook on his circumstance.
After he was transported to Carlsbad Medical Center, Phillippi was transferred to the Univer-sity Medical Center burn unit in Lubbock, Texas.
There, he said, doctors gave his family little hope that he would survive.
"I was told later that when I came into the burn unit I was in pretty bad shape," Phillippi said. "The doctors told my family that if I did survive, I might have brain damage. But everything went right for me. I don't remember the first four months in the hospital. They had me knocked out most of the time. When I woke up, I thought I had been in the hospital for about two weeks, not four months."
Ask about his positive attitude and long road to recovery with a lot of pain, Phillippi replied: "What else would I do. I don't feel sorry for myself and I don't blame anyone. It was accident."
Phillippi said while he was in the hospital in Lubbock the man he tried to help get his truck started came to see him and expressed tremendous guilt over what had happened.
"I tried to reassure him that I have no animosity toward him and I don't blame him for what happened," Phillippi said. "But he has had a difficult time over this."
After he was discharged from the hospital and released to go home, Phillippi said he went to thank Martinez.
"He is a very humble man. He doesn't think he did anything special. But I think he did. He saved my life," Phillippi said.
Throughout his hospital stay in Lubbock and Carlsbad, Phillippi said his brother, Tom and sister-in-law Jane; his daughter, Cindy, a nurse Carlsbad Medical Center and her husband, Keith Autry, visited him faithfully and stayed by his side when was hospitalized and it was touch-and-go for him.
"There were friends who came also. But some could not handle how badly burned I was," Phillippi said. "The good that has come out of this is that my brother and I have reconnected. We are much closer today than we were before the accident. My daughter and her husband have graciously allowed me to live with them, since I can't live alone yet."
Phillippi's day caregiver, Sarah Ramirez, said Phillippi never ceases to amaze her in the pro-gress he has made since coming home and how he looks at what happened to him.
"His spirit is unbelievable," Ramirez said. "When he first came home he was in a wheelchair and I had to lift him to get in and out of. He was not expected to walk again. He is walking , although a little slow and never misses his physical therapy appointments that I take him to. He is always laughing and telling jokes. He is an amazing man."
Phillippi still has a long road to recover. He said he will probably have several more skin grafts, but everyday he is getting better.
Phillippi and Martinez will be honored as Good Samaritans at this year's Carlsbad Community Foundation A.J. Crawford Award banquet. The Foundation annually names and honors people in the community for their outstanding humanitarian service, contributions to the arts and humani-ties in the community and community service. An award is also given to a pioneer family that continues to have strong roots in Carlsbad and South Eddy County.
The awards ceremony will be held Nov. 8 at t the Pecos Rive Conference Center.