Air Guardsman helps neighbors escape fire

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Tamara R. Dabney
  • 103rd Airlift Wing

On March 29, 2021, a fire destroyed two multi-family homes in the Rockville section of Vernon, Connecticut. At the time, U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Nathan Pisani, a member of the Connecticut Air National Guard’s 103rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, was inside one of the buildings where he lived with his partner and daughter. During the blaze, Pisani did what he felt any person would do, helping to rescue more than a dozen people.

On the day of the fire, Pisani was inside his apartment with his partner, daughter and pet cat when he went outside to re-park his truck. As Pisani opened his front door to leave, the scent of smoke rushed into his apartment.

“I was just stepping out of my front door to go move my truck because my partner had some places to go and the truck was blocking her car,” said Pisani. “I was actually about to start an exam for my online courses that I was taking, and yeah, those plans went out the window. I smelled smoke and that's when I looked around and saw the flames coming up.”

The multi-family buildings, which according to local officials were built in the 1800s, were completely engulfed in flames. As the wind blew burning embers from one building to the other, he ran door-to-door to alert his neighbors.

“I called 9-1-1 and started banging on doors, telling people to get out, there was a fire,” said Pisani. “There were large physical flames. I couldn’t stand and do nothing.”

Most people were able to escape the buildings. However, when Pisani went back to one of the buildings to check for remaining occupants, he saw that two people were trapped on the third floor. Pisani ran back to his truck and parked it close to the burning building, beneath the window where the people were trapped. He had initially hoped the truck would provide a higher base for landing, in case the trapped occupants were forced to jump out of the window to safety. Then, Pisani’s neighbor Brett Rinehart, a retired firefighter, was able to obtain a ladder so the people who were trapped could climb down from the third floor.

Just as Pisani, Rinehart, and other residents were preparing to assist their neighbors with their escape, firefighters arrived at the scene. Pisani and his neighbors aided the rescue by securing the base of a ladder as fire fighters climbed to the third floor to evacuate the individuals who were trapped.

Shortly after the incident, Pisani resumed his duties as part of the Connecticut National Guard’s COVID-19 response. He had been one of the hundreds Guardsmen tasked with distributing PPE to first responders and healthcare facilities throughout the state. Pisani was later tasked with COVID-19 testing and vaccination operations, as well as emergency food distribution.

For months, most of his colleagues were unaware of his efforts to rescue neighbors from a fire because he had not discussed the incident with them. Pisani, who has served in the military for more than 20 years, does not view his response on the night of the fire as something extraordinary or worthy of storytelling. In fact, he believes that his actions during the emergency would come naturally to anyone.

“Do the right thing,” said Pisani. “It’s just a general principle that's ingrained, I think, in each and every one of us. I can't see a situation and not do anything- at least not until I know someone better-trained and better-equipped is there.”

There were no serious injuries reported from the incident, though some residents went to the hospital as a precaution after inhaling smoke. 29 residents, including Pisani, were displaced as a result of the fire. Pisani was recognized by local authorities for potentially saving the lives of more than a dozen people.

“When you want to help other people, you can find the motivation to go in and help,” said Pisani. “Even when it is a hazardous situation, all you really need to do is to want to help people.”