BROADALBIN - Pat Rogers was returning home from his job at Quad/Graphics in Saratoga Springs shortly after 3 p.m. April 30 when he rounded a bend on Route 29 in the town of Milton and saw an orange glow.
Rogers, a 51-year-old Broadalbin resident, slowed down for a better look and saw flames coming from the porch at 537 Route 29. He drove up to the wooden two-family house and saw four cars parked in the driveway.
"I've driven that road every day for 22 years, " Rogers said. "I usually see military people coming and going. I saw four cars and I figured somebody had to be in the building."
Pat Rogers of Broadalbin talks about his role in rescuing four U.S. Navy men from their burning house in Milton, Saratoga County.
The Leader-Herald/John R. Becker
Inside were four Navy men who worked the night shift at the Kenneth A. Kesselring site in West Milton, a naval training facility for nuclear-reactor operators. They were asleep in the house, Rogers said.
At first, Rogers honked the horn of his truck, hoping to rouse anyone who might be inside. When no one answered, he got out of his truck and went to the unlocked back door.
"I leaned on the horn for 20 seconds, but I didn't see anybody," Rogers said. "The front porch was engulfed, so I went to the back door and started yelling. Finally, the first guy peeked around the corner."
By this time, two other residents of the house got up, and Rogers and the first man helped them out of the house.
"The three guys came out," Rogers said. "They looked like they were in shock and half-awake."
But one man still was missing. The men looked at every window and finally spotted the fourth man near a second-story window. Rogers yelled to him, telling him to grab the windowsill and lower himself as far as he could, then let go and trust the men on the ground to catch him. The man did jump, and the men on the ground caught him, Rogers said.
"That was his only way out, that window," Rogers said. "I called 911 after the fourth guy was down and told them the structure was on fire."
By the time firefighters arrived, Rogers was gone.
"I moved my truck for the firefighters, and I left the scene," he said. "I backed up out of the way and continued to drive home. On Route 29, I passed one of the fire trucks."
The West Milton, Rock City Falls, Galway, Porters Corners and Greenfield Center volunteer fire departments responded to the scene.
Saratoga County Fire Coordinator Ed Tremblay said the fire started about 3 p.m. A fifth occupant of the house, who works the day shift and had left already, did not put out his cigarette before leaving for work, Tremblay said.
"My office handled the investigation," Tremblay said. "I didn't realize at the time there were people in the house, but when I heard [on the scanner] how many fire departments were going, I knew it was pretty big."
Tremblay praised Rogers for his quick thinking under pressure.
"We go up to burning houses on a regular basis with protective gear, but it takes a lot of nerve to do it with nothing to protect you," Tremblay said.
Rogers said he felt compelled to act when he saw the fire.
"I just had to do something," he said. "I would have felt really bad if I'd read in the paper the next day that four guys burned to death."
When Rogers drove to work the next day, he was reminded of just how bad the fire was.
"I came back the next day and saw that the house was leveled - totally gone," he said.
Rogers is being recognized for his actions.
The Navy plans to honor him Friday afternoon at Quad/Graphics. The four men he helped rescue will be there, along with their commanding officer and fire department representatives.
"Some people at Quad/Graphics contacted a newspaper and told them who I was," Rogers said. "The Navy contacted my plant supervisor."
John R. Becker can be reached at email@example.com.