When firefighters responded to a blaze at a historic home in Milford, Massachusetts, on Tuesday, the house was already fully engulfed in flames. Crews got to work, but it became clear they wouldn’t be able to save the structure.
“They pulled us out because conditions were getting worse,” Lt. Billy Collins of the Milford Fire Department told TODAY.
After retreating from the building, he greeted a retired firefighter, his old boss, who was standing across the street. He pointed out a United States flag inside the home, hanging on the second floor.
“I didn’t even see it at first,” Collins recalled. “He said, ‘Hey Billy, you’re in the Marines. Go get that flag.’”
Collins, who served in the Marines in Operation Desert Storm, rushed back into the burning home and grabbed Old Glory. He called his actions a “no-brainer.”
“To me, it’s the flag — that’s all of us. No matter what your political beliefs are,” he said. “It represents all the people that sacrificed. People better than me.”
He told TODAY he is grateful to have made it home from his tours overseas and is thankful to all who serve.
“I just hope people — with all the fighting going on, the division — (the flag) means a lot,” he said.
The flag had been hanging in the window since the homeowner bought the house, the owner's girlfriend told NBC Boston.
“It was very, very meaningful to us,” said the girlfriend, Caroline Berberich. She told NBC Boston the flag Collins retrieved was actually one of two saved in the fire. The other was the burial flag of the homeowner’s father, a Navy veteran and Milford police officer.
"We're very appreciative they were able to save our flag in the widow and stop the fire so it didn't destroy his father's flag,” Berberich said. “If his father's flag was gone, it would have been the end of him.”
Collins said the home was destroyed and a few firefighters had minor injuries. NBC Boston reported four cats died in the fire.
“I just want to make it clear that there were a bunch of guys there working, taking chances, risking their safety and life putting out the fire,” Collins said. “I’m no hero, I just happen to be the guy that grabbed the flag.”