UNDERHILL, Vt. - Sgt. 1st Class Damien Larose noticed plumes of smoke coming from a residence on Vermont Route 15 after dropping his son off at daycare on Dec. 28.

He immediately called 911 to report the house fire. The dispatcher prompted him to check if anyone was inside.

"Adjacent to the garage, there was a car parked in the driveway with no snow on it, " remembered Larose. "That made me think there's probably someone inside."

Larose said he knocked on doors while calling out to see if anyone would respond. Smoke continued to pour from the structure through broken window glass.

He pushed an unlocked door open and deep, black smoke rolled out causing him to think no one could be alive within.

He smashed a window with a snow shovel to increase ventilation and looked through the door again. This time he noticed a woman on the floor. "I basically took a big breath of air, ran in and just grabbed her by the arm and pulled her out, " he said.

Larose described the woman, June Collins of North Hero, Vermont, as unresponsive while he carried her outside. He was surprised by what happened next: "As soon as her back touched the ground she just had this gasp of air like she had been underwater."

Larose monitored Collins' pulse as she continued to gulp fresh air. He remained with her until emergency responders arrived to transport her to the University of Vermont Medical Center where she received treatment for severe smoke inhalation and burns.

Sgt. 1st Class Larose has deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. "As an infantryman, I have been in some pretty tense situations, " he reflected. "So here, I could think a little more clearly and react with a cooler head." He also served as a law enforcement professional before earning a full-time position as an incentives manager for the Vermont National Guard.

Larose notes in hindsight, "It's just something we need to do for each other, for me it's a no brainer: just help people."

He is thankful for a recent text message he received from Collins, "So sorry that I can't see you and thank you in person as I can't even talk at the moment. Thank you for saving my life ... I'll see you when I am well again."