Franklin officers save feisty 78-year-old who mistook them for burglars during fire

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Toni Yates has the story in Franklin Township. (WABC)

Police officers are being credited with rescuing a 78-year-old woman from a house fire in New Jersey.

Around noon Wednesday, neighbors called Franklin Township police to a fire on Spruce Street in the Somerset section. Flames and heavy smoke were coming from the home, and the woman's daughter, Maria Ducos, frantically told the firefighters that her mother, Maria Santiago, was trapped in her bedroom.

Officers Nicholas Gambino and Deyo Schwartz forced their way in through the rear door of the home, but were blocked by heavy smoke. The daughter showed the officers where her mother's room was, and they broke the bedroom windows. An officer went inside through a window, but could not find her.

"We had heard screaming from the front right bedroom, at which time we tried to locate her form the rear of the residence, with negative results," Gambino said. "So we went through the front window, broke that window, and she had actually moved her way to the rear of the residence."

They were able to locate Santiago about 25 feet from the back, and the officers picked her up and carried her out. But she didn't realize they were cops trying to save her, apparently thinking they were burglars.

"She did fight us a little bit, but it all ended well, and that's all that matters," Schwartz said. "And she's safe with her family now."

She was treated by emergency medical personnel from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital for smoke inhalation and a minor shoulder injury, then released.

"They took action right away, and they got through the window and they were able to locate the woman," Franklin Police Chief Lawrence Roberts said. "This could have been fatal."

The officers were also treated and released for smoke inhalation.

Firefighters responded to battle the blaze.

It was determined that the fire was not suspicious in nature and was started by a lit candle that had been left unattended.

The house was badly damaged, and the grateful mother and daughter are staying with family members in the area.

"If I see them right now, I won't recognize them," Ducos said. "But I want to see them so me and my mother can give them a hug and hope that God guides them all through the day they retire, because they deserve it."

And that reunion happened Friday, with Santiago and Ducos delivering those hugs.
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