Gunnar Þór Nilsen and Friðrik Elís Ásmundsson, two Icelandic friends living in Aarhus, Denmark, made headlines yesterday after saving a Romanian family—including a newborn baby—from a mammoth apartment fire. While that accomplishment alone would be worth celebrating, however, even more astounding is the fact that Gunnar seems to make a habit of being “the right man in the right place,” Morgunblaðið reports, having also extinguished another neighbor’s house fire earlier this winter and rescued and resuscitated two people involved in serious car accidents.
Describing the fire yesterday, Gunnar said that the heat was so intense that the window panes around he and Friðrik started to crack. “I went into the apartment—we broke the living room window to get in—and there we saw a woman with a little baby. And she just looked at us as though she didn’t understand what was happening. She didn’t understand what was happening, but she came out with us.”
“The heat was so intense that we couldn’t stay in the apartment any longer. I was just scorched, and the heat from the the smoke was so horrible. If I had stayed there any longer, I would have gone up in smoke, that’s what I’m saying,” he continued.
But he had a feeling that someone else was still in the apartment, so he stood at the base of the staircase, screaming up toward the apartment. Suddenly, a man came running out of the smoke, awoken by Gunnar’s cries. The man was suffering from smoke inhalation, but otherwise okay. Gunnar and Friðrik took the young family back to their apartment, where they dressed them in Icelandic lopapeysa for warmth.
This isn’t the first fire that Gunnar has rescued people from, even recently. About six weeks ago, in fact, he noticed that there was a fire burning on the balcony of an apartment in the building next to his home. He called the emergency line for help, and then ran over and started dousing the fire with water. While waiting for the fire department to arrive, he then went after the residents. “I kicked open the door and woke up some guy who was sleeping on the sofa at four o’clock in the afternoon.”
And Gunnar’s heroism extends beyond apartment fires, too. In 2008, he rescued and resuscitated an 18 year old Danish boy who had been seriously injured in a car accident. And ten years ago, he pulled another man from a burning car after witnessing a wreck in a roundabout.
Asked whether he has had enough rescuing for the time being, Gunnar laughed, “It’s fine for now. But I am always ready to be the first man on the scene if I can help,” adding that he has learned first aid and taken a volunteer fire fighting course, as well as having spent a long time at sea.
When Gunnar isn’t saving lives, he’s actually trained as a photographer and currently works as a filmmaker in both Iceland and Denmark. If you want to give him a little Christmas present for all his heroic work, it turns out that he is currently raising money to purchase a farm in Mols, Denmark, “to make the farm a retreat for artists from all over the world.” Check out the full project description (in English) here.