On the night of Feb. 4, 2009, Michael Sasser and his father, Duffy, were traveling southbound between exits 42 and 44 of the Merritt Parkway when they spotted a rolling black cloud of smoke emanating from an overturned sport utility vehicle on the other side of the highway.

A New Canaan firefighter, Michael Sasser said he followed his gut feeling that rapid assistance was necessary, and pulled over his car before dashing across four lanes of traffic and over the median to aid the driver, with his father close behind.

"I could see flames in the engine compartment," the 31-year-old Sasser said. "The man was obviously in rough shape and we took action."

While Michael Sasser managed to open the heavily damaged driver's door of the car, Duffy Sasser said he borrowed a pocket knife from one of the motorists looking on to cut the seat belt off the man.

After they dragged the man a safe distance along the median, Duffy Sasser, 64, busted the windows of the truck with a tire iron to confirm there were no other passengers. Within a minute or two, the SUV burst into flames, Duffy Sasser recalled.

The victim, Shelton resident Thomas Connelly, then 64, recovered from the accident, according to the Red Cross.

"It was two or three minutes between the time we arrived and the vehicle blowing up," Duffy Sasser said. "It was very close."

The Sassers, both of Stamford, are among 26 southern Connecticut residents who will be recognized by the Connecticut Chapter of the American Red Cross at its 2010 Heroes of Lower Fairfield County breakfast Thursday at 7:30 a.m. at The Trumbull Marriott, 180 Hawley Lane, Trumbull.

The event, which costs $35, is expected to draw about 500 guests, according to Diane Castrovinci, development director for the Connecticut chapter of the American Red Cross.

The awards honor both those who are being recognized for their volunteer contributions to the organization as well as citizens who acted selflessly to aid others during emergencies.

The roster of honorees includes four other Stamford residents. Kevin Hackett, Mat Lori and Joseph Quinn are being recognized for saving Hackett's 4-year-old son from drowning in a backyard pool, and Dr. Thomas Nero, a cardiologist at Stamford and Greenwich hospitals, is being honored for efforts to train residents to perform CPR through programs associated with the Red Cross.

"Red Cross volunteers, who make up nearly 97 percent of our work force, go above and beyond to comfort and support neighbors in the wake of disasters," American Red Cross Regional CEO Dianne Auger said. "Our Heroes event celebrates the people in our community who do the extraordinary in service to others."

Michael Sasser said that he believed that in similar circumstances, many people would have taken the same action to save Connelly's life.

"Without my training as a firefighter it might have been a lot scarier, but I think anybody without the training who saw somebody in that situation would do whatever was necessary," he said.