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SPRINGFIELD — It was just after midnight early morning on Friday, July 11, 2008 when a fire was detected at the Zodiac Village apartment complex on Groton School Road in Ayer.

First emergency responders included Ayer police officers Jennifer Bigelow, Detective Kellie Barhight, and Sgt. John MacDonald. The three, wearing their police uniforms and no other protective gear, ran in to rouse residents from their sleep at a time when, fully involved in flames, everyone should have been running out of the building.

The trio kicked in a series of doors, crawled through smoky rooms, and cleared the apartments one at a time, shepherding the sleepy and unaware occupants towards safety as their homes went up in the fast-moving fire.

Arriving on the scene to provide a critical assist were Groton police officers Dale Rose and Cory Waite, who, answering Ayer’s call, joined their fellow Ayer officers in the rescue efforts.

On Oct. 29, the Massachusetts Police Association bestowed honors on the five officers at their 109th annual convention that took place in West Springfield. Ayer Police Chief William Murray and Groton Police Chief Donald Palma Jr. accompanied their officers to the ceremony, along with other town officials. The two departments joined to forward the officers’ names for consideration for the MPA Awards.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. A dozen people were left homeless when the wood frame apartment building, one of eight at Zodiac Village, was reduced to ashes due to the fast moving flames and limited water supply from a nearby fire hydrant.