Joe Palmer and Hudson Smith were not the first motorists to spot a wrecked, flaming Jeep off Interstate 75.

But they were the first to do something about it.

Out of the corner of his eye Wednesday, Mr. Palmer saw some drivers rubbernecking what looked like a bad one-car crash off the Collegedale exit just after 10 a.m. The former soldier, trained in combat lifesaving techniques, weaved his pickup truck through the vehicles to get a closer look.

The Jeep was filled with paint supplies, Mr. Palmer said. Burning plastic and fuel smells saturated the air while white paint splattered all over the ground and grass. A small fire had started in the Jeep, but the men couldn't see the driver.

Then Mr. Smith spotted him. Forty-seven-year-old Clint Defur was unconscious with multiple cuts, bruises and broken bones, lying underneath the rear driver's side of the Jeep. His leg was pinned against the exit sign he'd slammed into while driving down the ramp.

After ducking under the Jeep and scanning the unconscious man's injuries, Mr. Palmer knew it wasn't safe to move him.

So he moved the Jeep.

Mr. Smith watched as Mr. Defur hauled out 6-inch-wide towing straps, connected his truck to the Jeep and hauled the blazing hulk of metal up the hill.

He then returned to Mr. Defur and ran through his emergency medical checks. Shortly after, two other passers-by joined in before fire and ambulance workers arrived.

Tri-Community Fire Department EMT Kayla Morrison and Southeast Ambulance EMT Clifford Graham saw the wreckage and provided first aid.

Mr. Palmer said it was a chaotic scene with everyone shouting out patient conditions and prepping Mr. Defur to move into the ambulance.

"I didn't even hear the firetruck pull up," he said.

The entire time, Mr. Palmer said he could hear his cell phone ringing inside his truck. An Athens, Tenn., client for his business, McKinnley Excavating, was wondering where they were.

Chattanooga Fire Department spokesman Bruce Garner said the men might have saved Mr. Defur's life. As of Friday evening, Mr. Defur was still in intensive care at Erlanger hospital.

The work the men did is rare, Mr. Garner said.

"They saw an emergency, stopped and took action," he said. "Not only did they take action, they took the right action."

Just after Mr. Defur rode down the road to the hospital in the ambulance, Mr. Palmer looked at his watch. Only 10 minutes had passed since the men pulled up to the crash.

They spent more than two hours answering television reporters' questions, then being photographed standing next to what was left of Mr. Defur's Jeep.

Then the pair cranked up his truck and headed to work.

Mr. Palmer said he gave Mr. Smith the next day off.