NH Heroes: Emergency? They're going inBy NANCY FOSTER
New Hampshire Union Leader Correspondent
Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2008
MILFORD – When the fire call came in just before 1 a.m. last May 18, four Milford police officers rushed to 48 Dearborn St.
Officers Weston Vollheim and Dana Johnson were the first to arrive at the home; within moments, they were joined by officers Garret Booth and Christopher Blastos.
Together at an award ceremony at the Milford Police Station, the four officers involved in the attempt to rescue Ellen Cassidy during a house fire are, from left, Christopher Blastos, Dana Johnson, Weston Vollheim and Garret Booth.
"We found heavy smoke coming from the second floor of the residence," Vollheim recalled, "and all four of us ran in."
While Johnson and Booth surveyed the first floor, Vollheim and Blastos ran upstairs, yelling and trying to get a response from the two residents they believed were inside.
"Suddenly, we were facing a wall of smoke," Vollheim said. "There were four or five inches of breathable air near the floor, but otherwise we couldn't see at all."
As embers and debris started falling from the ceiling, Blastos stuck his head down into the clear air below the smoke and found Ellen Cassidy, 60, lying on the floor of a second-floor bedroom.
"He pulled her out and we brought her out of the house," Vollheim said.
Vollheim and Booth then started looking for Cassidy's son, but it turned out he wasn't home.
"We were wearing polyester, which is like kindling," Vollheim said, "and when more debris started falling, Officer Booth, who was the senior officer, ordered us to get out."
Once outside, Booth and Blastos decided to take one more look inside the house while Vollheim joined Johnson in administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation to Cassidy until the Milford Ambulance Service arrived.
"Unfortunately, we couldn't get her back," he said.
Cassidy died at the scene. Authorities said the cause of death was smoke inhalation. The fire was not considered suspicious.
Although the officers weren't able to save Cassidy, Vollheim said he wouldn't hesitate to try to save someone's life, even if it meant risking his own.
"I'm not interested in running into another burning building," Vollheim said, "but as police officers, we're often the first ones on the scene. If someone's trapped inside a burning building, we're going in."
Vollheim, Blastos, Booth and Johnson will be honored with New Hampshire Union Leader Hero Awards, presented in conjunction with Citizens Bank, at a reception at the State House in Concord Thursday.
The Hero Awards are given out annually to recognize the efforts of New Hampshire residents who risked their lives in attempts to save others.