RUMFORD — A pair of Rumford police officers received commendations Tuesday morning for saving a couple from their burning home in Mexico on Dec. 2.
Chief Tony Milligan presented the awards to Cpl. Lawrence Winson and Patrolman Robert Haseltine during a small ceremony at the police station.
“I just want to thank you for that night,” Sharon Cummings told the officers when they entered the room.
“Yeah, me, too,” her husband, Don, said.
“I’m glad we were there to help you,” Winson responded.
The couple, both 73 at the time of the fire, were accompanied by their dog, Sophia.
Milligan said Winson and Haseltine were at the station when they heard a 2 a.m. call about a burning house at 43 Highland Terrace in Mexico and the occupants were reportedly trapped inside.
Although it was in a neighboring town, they took off and were the first emergency responders at the scene.
“I remember showing up and being able to see the glow of the fire as we were coming up over the hill,” Winson said. “We got out and I asked dispatch when we got there if there was still anyone inside and they said they were unsure. Then we could hear Donny on the back side of the house because he had pushed the window out and made it easier for us. There was a lot of heat.”
Don said he told his wife, who is disabled, “You’re going out the window. You’re going to get hurt, but if you don’t, you’re going to die. And then, all of a sudden, oh my God, they’re here!”
Winson said Don was getting ready to push her out the window and could be heard yelling.
“Luckily, we got there just in time,” Winson said.
They helped Don get her safely out the window, before he helped the dog out and then went through the window himself.
The officers carried Sharon about 75 feet down the front yard to a waiting ambulance.
Neither the Cummingses nor their dog were injured.
Rumford Fire Chief Chris Reed, who assisted Mexico firefighters, said the couple would have likely succumbed to the smoke and fire in another one or two minutes if they hadn’t been rescued.
“I’m really proud of them,” Milligan said after presenting the officers with plaques.
This is the fourth time Winson has been credited with saving a life, and it’s the first time for Haseltine, who started with the force last summer and will go to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy’s basic training next month.
Officers receive lifesaving pins that are worn as part of their uniform.
Thinking back to the fire Tuesday, Don said, “The only thing I can say is I wish I had listened to my dog. She started barking and barking and I told her to shut up five or six times. Then she came in the bedroom, got to the foot of the bad, and kept it up.”
Don said when he stood up he could see smoke.
“From the time I looked out my bow window, I could see flames on the inside doors of my garage,” he said. “I dialed 911, looked down the hallway. The gas tanks must have blown on the two vehicles. Now my breezeway and everything is engulfed. That’s when I closed the bedroom door and said we’ve got to get out of here.”
Milligan said closing that door “probably saved you some minutes right there.”
“I’ve been to a couple of different structure fires, one where people haven’t made it out,” Winson said. “It happens very quickly. You only have minutes.”
After the presentation, Winson showed the couple the uniform cam footage of Sharon being lifted out the first-floor window.
“Those are memories, baby,” Don told his wife.
“Oh, I’d like to forget ’em,” she told him. “I will, eventually.”
Their fire-damaged home will be demolished, Don said. They now live in a home they purchased on Piscataquis Street in Rumford.