BRATTLEBORO — Four-year-old Nolan Goodnow was supposed to be sleeping the night of Dec. 9 when he woke his mother at 3:30 a.m. to ask what he was hearing.
“It sounded 'beep, beep,'” he recalled.
Nolan's mother, Allison Gleason, thought it was a plow truck in the parking lot, only to look outside her second-floor apartment at 19 Western Ave. to see growing flames had triggered a fire alarm.
Stopped by smoke upon opening the door, Gleason had to fall some 15 feet out a window so she could hope to catch her son, his 3-year-old sister, and their grandmother when they jumped out themselves.
Firefighters from 10 area departments soon arrived to battle what they've deemed the biggest local blaze of the year. Investigators have yet to identify the cause.
But all involved agree: If the preschooler hadn't woken his mother, the family would have perished within minutes.
That's why local public safety leaders honored Nolan over the weekend, giving him a fire helmet, a police hat, and a bag full of toys, both for Christmas and his fifth birthday on Dec. 23.
“It was a little scary,” the boy summed up the blaze.
The Brattleboro Fire Department said it was a lot more. Receiving a call Dec. 9 at 3:39 a.m., responders saw flames spread so quickly, they had to call nine other units from nearby Dummerston, Guilford, Putney, Westminster, Wilmington and the New Hampshire towns of Chesterfield, Hinsdale, Keene, and Walpole.
“It's one of the biggest property losses in the last two years,” Brattleboro Fire Chief Leonard Howard said.
Nolan's mother had only minutes upon waking to realize she'd have to jump out a window to set an example for everyone else.
“That whole part is kind of a blur, but there was not even a second thought,” said Gleason, who suffered a few bumps and bruises. “I didn't care if I got hurt as long as I was able to catch them. Honestly, if Nolan had woken me up even 60 seconds later ....”
Brattleboro Police Chief Norma Hardy, responding to the scene, saw the blaze through the eyes of a former New York City officer with firefighting training.
“I was told there were two children thrown out of windows,” she said, “and that got my attention.”
Learning the full story, Hardy decided to recognize Nolan over the weekend with a ceremony naming him an honorary police officer.
“We wanted to show him we realize how great he was,” the police chief said. “Children are the future. We want them to know they can come to us if they need help and not be afraid.”
Nolan and his sister have received more than their fill of toys in the days since.
“They're going to have one of the biggest Christmases they've ever had because of the community's generosity,” Gleason said.
Now, as the family stays with friends and relatives, all it wants for Christmas is a multi-bedroom apartment.
Nolan, in the meantime, is contemplating a career in public safety.
“I love firefighters and police,” he said.
But first he has to go to kindergarten, he added.