Something clicked inside Joseph Trapani.

"It was just a reaction," the 29-year-old Hercules resident said Monday. "I didn't think about it. I just started moving.

"I don't think it's that big a deal, to be honest."

An elderly man who was sleeping at the home in the 2200 block of Lupine Road would probably beg to differ. Trapani rescued the man from the blaze Saturday afternoon by rushing into the home, waking him and carrying him out the front door.

Fire investigators believe the blaze started in the engine compartment of a 1999 Honda sedan that was parked in the garage of the home. The heat from the fire ignited the eaves and roof of the house, Battalion Chief Brian Lowry said.

Joseph Trapani is photographed on Monday, July 22, 2013 in San Leandro, Calif.  Trapani kicked in the front door of a burning home and rescued a man inside
Joseph Trapani is photographed on Monday, July 22, 2013 in San Leandro, Calif. Trapani kicked in the front door of a burning home and rescued a man inside on Saturday in the city of Hercules. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) (ARIC CRABB)

Trapani, a former wrestler at De La Salle High in Concord, his brother and two friends were driving through the neighborhood about 1:30 p.m. -- on their way to hit golf balls at a driving range -- when they saw the car on fire and flames shooting from the windows.

"The smoke was manageable," he said. "I just tried to keep my head down, and I was able to kneel down and move around the house.

"I went to each room and kicked in the doors, and when I came to the last one, there was an elderly man asleep in the bed. He thought I was an intruder when he heard me kicking the door."

The resident, whom authorities identified as Doan Do, suffered cuts on his knees, according to Trapani, but was otherwise OK.


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Fire officials say they don't advise civilians to rush into burning homes, but they were hard-pressed to fault Trapani for his heroic actions.

"If somebody feels somebody else is in danger, they're gonna react," said Rodeo-Hercules Fire Chief Charles Hanley. "And I can't really say it's a wrong thing to do.

"Was there danger?" Hanley said. "Yes. Was the young man putting himself in a dangerous situation? Yes. But can I, in good consciousness, say that he was at fault for doing it? No.

"In the end, he was putting a stranger's life ahead of his (own). It's a reflection of his caring and his character."

Weighing in by email, Trapani's father agreed.

"I think all three of my kids are people of high integrity," Paul Trapani said. "I'm very proud of his compassion for others."

Joseph Trapani emerged unscathed -- he was working at his job as an aide to a physical therapist Monday -- save for some singe marks on his upper arms and on his back.

He said that after he pulled Do out of the burning house, he made a second dash inside to make sure nobody else was home. Only then, he said, did he realize the danger in which he'd put himself.

"I haven't tried to give that a whole lot of thought," he said.

Trapani said he worked as an emergency medical technician for a year, and that the job, along with his wrestling background, helped him remain composed as chaos was breaking out around him.

"One thing I've learned is that whoever stays calm in a crisis, that's the person who will be followed," he said. "I've stayed somewhat fit, too, so that helped."

Trapani also gave credit to three men who were with him, saying they remained in verbal contact with him as he searched the house.

The Red Cross is providing temporary housing for Do and another resident, Lowry said. Damage to the home was estimated at $100,000, and fire officials did not have an estimate of when it may be inhabitable again.

Trapani said he was overwhelmed by the media attention his actions have attracted, especially because he doesn't view himself as heroic.

"Since it happened, I've been pulled in every direction," he said. "And, to me, it doesn't seem like it's a big deal. I don't feel like a hero."

Contact Rick Hurd at 925-945-4789 and follow him at Twitter.com/3rdERH.