Nashua police heroes

From left, Alex Gangi, Colin Flanagan, Jason Reinold and Scott Ciszek of the Nashua Police Department rescued a woman from a burning building last year.

NASHUA — Risking their own lives, four city police officers bravely entered a burning building last year trying to save an elderly woman who was trapped inside.

This month, those officers are being honored as part of the New Hampshire Union Leader’s 2019 Hero Awards presented by Citizens Bank.

“We feel like we were just doing what we were supposed to do that day,” said officer Scott Ciszek of the Nashua Police Department.

His colleague, officer Jason Reinold, said firefighters were not yet at the scene, so the police stepped in.

“We did what we could and we didn’t think about it. It is our job,” Reinold said.

Ciszek was on patrol the morning of Jan. 7, 2018, when he noticed smoke at 93 Lock St. One resident had already escaped the blaze and notified police that there was still an 85-year-old woman, Norma “Connie” Berube, inside the burning house.

“I could see fire when I exited my vehicle. Flames were coming up over the top of the roof,” said Ciszek, who found his way through a side door that entered into the kitchen.

“The smoke inside was pretty thick. The hallway was ablaze,” said Ciszek, who was forced to leave and enter through another door. “We had to force the front door open.”

By this time, officers Alex Gangi, Colin Flanagan and Reinold had arrived on scene to assist.

“We were all low-crawling under the smoke,” Ciszek said of the four patrolmen.

There was a significant amount of clutter inside the house, which required police to climb over items in order to maneuver through the first level, hindering their pathway and visibility, they said.

“We just couldn’t see anything. We lost visibility quickly so I kept trying to keep my eye on the door,” said Flanagan, who was still in training at the time of the fire call. “I never saw flames like that — they were just shooting through the door.”

The flames again forced the four officers to exist the structure, but they were able to better understand where Berube was trapped after crawling through most of the first floor and not yet encountering her.

“Your training kicks in and the adrenaline kicks in and you do what you can. It was nice knowing we weren’t alone,” Ciszek said.

Once back outside, firefighters were on the scene and Ciszek, Reinold, Gangi and Flanagan were able to relay critical information to firefighters such as the inside layout of the house, where the fire was strongest and where they believed the woman was trapped.

Two firefighters entered the front door while others worked with police to break windows. A city firefighter entered through one of the windows and located Berube, who was suffering from asphyxiation with a swollen windpipe.

Firefighters carried her into a waiting ambulance where she was transported to a Boston hospital and fully recovered.

The four police officers agreed that the camaraderie between the Nashua police and fire crews was instrumental in helping to make a potentially tragic situation into a successful rescue operation.

The house was destroyed in the two-alarm blaze, which was caused by a space heater.

The four police officers are being recognized as part of the New Hampshire Union Leader’s 2019 Hero Awards sponsored by Citizens Bank. The Hero Awards are held each spring to honor residents who have risked their lives to save or attempt to save the life of another during the previous year.

The 2019 Hero Awards will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesday at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord.

The event is free and open to the public. Please RSVP to events@unionleader.com.