BEACON — It was 4 a.m., the day before Thanksgiving, when 5-year-old Matthew Hansen woke.
Something was wrong. His room was too dark.
He had been sleeping in his loft bed, surrounded by his massive collection of stuffed animals.
“I need my eyes checked, Mommy, I can’t see,” he recalled shouting.
His surprising call for help woke his parents, despite them being exhausted. Both worked long hours, Christina Hansen as an emergency room nurse in New Rochelle and Greg Hansen as a pilot at a charter company in Connecticut.
“He never wakes up at night,” Christina Hansen said. “Greg said to him, ‘You can’t see because it’s dark out and you’re sleeping.’ ”
His dad’s explanation might have made sense to him any other day. But Matthew knew the “clouds” in his brown eyes had nothing to do with night or sleep. Between talks with his parents and the fire prevention program that his kindergarten class at Sargent Elementary School in Beacon offers, he knew something was wrong.
“I felt something and at school they told us what to do if your butt is ever on fire,” he said. “You stop, drop and roll. You’re never supposed to hide, and you’re always supposed to call for help. So I called my mom and dad.”
Christina Hansen said: “Matt was yelling to check his eyes, that he couldn’t see and something was wrong, so I looked toward his room and I saw the smoke.”
Matthew said: “Once my mom saw the smoke, she grabbed me out of my bed and started running down the stairs as fast as she could. The fireman at school said, ‘Stay calm,’ so I’m thinking well, OK. The house is on fire.”
His mother wasn’t as nonchalant.
“I’m just thinking, ‘Get him outside,’ but all he had on was a T-shirt and underwear and I didn’t want him to freeze,” she said.
Safe, but cold
Outside, shivering on the porch of the two-story house, Matthew was wearing the T-shirt he prefers to pajamas.
While Matthew was on the porch, his dad, Greg Hansen, was in the kitchen, trying to get the fire under control, while Christina Hansen tried to help him.
“Greg was screaming for a flashlight,” she said. “I told Matt to stay on the porch, and as I ran into the kitchen, the heat just blasted me. It was pitch black.”
The light bulbs had melted in the sockets.
“The smoke was rolling around the door frames,” she said.
Greg Hansen wanted to see what was causing the fire.
It turned out to be cupcakes the father and son had made for the class birthday party that would be celebrated later that day.
“The school does parties once a month for all the birthdays, and we were in charge of cupcakes,” Hansen said. “They were on top of the stove in a carrier.”
An investigation determined the electric stove had short-circuited and turned itself on, causing the cupcake carrier to catch fire.
“We never leave anything on top of the stove, but that night everything just seemed to conspire against us,” he said.
With Matthew on the porch, Christina Hansen called the Fire Department, ran in to bring her husband the flashlight he needed and grabbed Matthew warmer clothes from the freshly laundered pile on the dining table.
“It was so intensely hot inside and so cold outside,” she said.
The stove and the cabinets above it were on fire.
“I was so glad they were outside because I’m in the kitchen wondering if we were going to have a house soon,” Greg Hansen said.
“I threw water on the cabinets, until the fire smoldered, then turned off the circuit breaker in the basement.”
For Matthew, the hero of the night, the worst part was standing outside, covered in soot, in his underwear.
“I was happy when mom brought my clothes,” he said.
The Fire Department, police and an ambulance showed up “within minutes,” said the grateful couple and Matthew got to sit in a police car.
Firefighters made sure the fire hadn’t spread into the walls and vented the home to get as much smoke out as possible.
Two minutes more might have been too late, fire officials later said.
City of Beacon Fire Administrator Michael Davis said Matthew saved his family, his home and himself.
“Many people have died from lack of early detection,” Davis said. “This family was two minutes away from that, if not for Matthew waking up. The smoke would have blocked the stairwell.”
The Hansens bought their house 10 years ago, long before they knew they’d have a little boy who would save it and the family. It was built in 1904, they said, and they liked the layout: an open living area with a dining space, a connected kitchen, and three bedrooms upstairs.
Matthew’s bedroom is the first one at the top of the stairs, next to the fire alarm-carbon monoxide detector that did not go off when the kitchen fire started.
“The batteries were newly replaced in the detector, but it came with the house. It just didn’t work,” Greg Hansen said.
Davis said that the most important message that Matthew can spread is one of fire safety.
“Being educated about fire safety, what to do in an emergency … that saves lives,” Davis said.
Davis was so impressed with Matthew that he visited the boy, bringing him a fire hat and shirt.
“What he did is extraordinary, waking up the whole house like that,” Davis said.
He’s not the only one who was impressed.
The Beacon City Council, Mayor Randy Casale and the Fire Department will honor Matthew’s bravery soon, although details aren’t set on what type of recognition he’ll get.
The Beacon City School District is also proud, board President Melissa Thompson said.
“I have tears in my eyes, hearing about this,” Thompson said. “This is a perfect example of all the pieces of the puzzle — the family, the school, the fire department — coming together.”
The family is moving forward together, renovating the kitchen, cleaning soot off the walls and washing clothes, Christina Hansen said. But it’s not easy.
Matthew is with his parents after school but sleeps at Greg’s father’s house until their home is in better shape, she said.
“Christmas is canceled for the grown-ups,” she said. “We’re going to be watching our money. But Santa’s visiting Matt, of course.”
Smoke damaged the dining room, a bathroom, and the kitchen, which is “gutted,” Greg Hansen said.
“It’s going to take six years to fix it,” Matthew said.
“A few weeks,” his mom corrected him. “Hopefully we’ll have a kitchen for Christmas.”
Story originally posted on the Poughkeepsie Journal and written by Nina Schutzman