MILFORD — Fire Lt. Billy Collins donned his oxygen mask and dashed back into 23 East St. Tuesday afternoon, despite the lingering flames and an evacuation order.
Moments before, his now-retired lieutenant, Mike Ballou, had been watching firefighters tackle the blaze and realized an American flag was still inside. He’d called out to ex-Marine Collins, who acted immediately.
“It’s the American flag,” said Collins, who served in Operation Desert Storm. “You treat it with respect.”
Firefighters had already been evacuated from the inside of the home, after the back porch collapsed and parts of the roof began caving in. The flag, Collins said, was in the front of the house, while the heaviest flames were still in the rear.
He managed to save it before it burned, though it likely sustained smoke damage, and was thoroughly soaked.
“It was nothing,” Collins said, brushing aside praise. “I didn’t want to see the flag get destroyed.”
He tucked the flag inside a truck to protect it from further damage, as black and gray smoke choked the neighborhood, and said it was later reunited with its owner.
All residents of the apartment building escaped Tuesday’s fire — at least three people were home at the time — but four cats died of smoke inhalation, according to Assistant Animal Control officer Keith Haynes.
“I wish they got out,” Haynes said, “but they usually hide.”
The American Red Cross said the organization gave funds to five adults who are now homeless, for a place to stay, as well as necessities like food and clothing.
“They’re also assigned case workers who will put them together with other resources and organizations who can help after a disaster like this,” American Red Cross Massachusetts Region Chief Communications and Marketing Officer Lloyd Ziel wrote in an email.
Alison Bosma can be reached at 508-634-7582 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Find her on Twitter at @AlisonBosma.
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