The truck had been carrying 4,000 gallons of jet fuel, firefighters said, calling the ensuing blaze a double “fire wall” on either side of a bridge.
McNally was on the way home from visiting her three-day-old son in a neonatal intensive care unit with her mother when she saw smoke. Then, she saw a man on fire running from the burning tanker.
“I stopped, and I see a lot of other people stopping too, and they’re taping and watching, but nobody was doing anything,” McNally told NBC News. “I said, ‘I cant sit here and watch this man run around and maybe perish in front of me,’ so I took off running.”
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
“My mom’s like, ‘I’ve never seen you run that fast in 35 years of your life.’ Like it was 26 degrees, I had no coat on, and I’m hauling butt to this man to put him out and get him.”
Another witness, whom officials said was Mitch Navarre, had reached the victim identified later as the truck’s driver, Jeffrey Denman, 59, and used his coat to put the flames out, according to a statement from the Indianapolis Fire Department.
The statement said Denman was in shock, and Navarre was having trouble coaxing him away from what was initially a relatively small fire. But then the tanker exploded, which “forced the men to make a rapid retreat.”
McNally kept sprinting. Seconds after she reached the two men, the tanker erupted again. “We could feel the heat on our back,” McNally said.
“It was getting up there, getting him put out and finding out was running down my shoes,” McNally said. “I asked him, ‘What’s your name?’, and he said ‘Jeffrey.’ And I said, ‘Jeffrey, what were you hauling, what’s rushing past us?’ And he said: ‘Jet fuel.'”
McNally knew they had to get as far away from the tanker as quickly as possible. “I said, ‘I’ve got a baby I’ve got to make it home to, and you probably have a family too, so we have got to go Jeff.'”
Meanwhile, McNally’s mother was watching from afar, mortified that her daughter might not survive. “My poor mom,” McNally said. “She had no clue where I was. She heard the second explosion, and she lost it.”
But McNally said she doesn’t regret her decision, however impulsive it may have been, to rush to the burning man.
She helped deliver her third child, Connor, on Monday, laboring just 26 minutes before the baby arrived ahead of doctors. He was placed in the NICU for observation.
“I had just left my baby that I got to bring into this world, and I didn’t want to see a life go out of this world,” McNally said.
“I was thinking in my head, ‘I’ve got to get to my baby, but I’ve got to save him,'” McNally said. “I could have not seen my baby again, you know, he would have never known me.” But, “it would have been OK going down saving somebody.”
Denman remained hospitalized in critical condition on Friday, fire officials said.
After escaping safely, McNally said all she wanted to do was turn around and get back to Connor. “All I want to do is hold him and cry,” she said.
Elisha Fieldstadt is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.