Firefighters battle a fire inside of a convent in Port...

Firefighters battle a fire inside of a convent in Port Jefferson on Jan. 11, 2009. Thomas J. Connors and Eric Surbito saved a nun from the fire. Credit: James Carbone

For Sister Alice Benedict, it didn't take much to know that Thomas J. Connors and Eric Surbito were her miracles.

"God is full of surprises," she said.

Her surprise came on Jan. 11, 2009, when Connors and Surbito rescued her from a burning convent near St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson.

Benedict, 75, a Daughters of Wisdom nun, was asleep upstairs when the building's chapel caught on fire. She woke up to smoke, shouted for help, then collapsed. After kicking in a convent door, the two men managed to carry her out, unconscious, and into the arms of Port Jefferson firefighters.

"I knew if we didn't get her out she would be overcome by smoke," Surbito said.

Surbito, 29, a Brooklyn-based firefighter who lives in Lake Ronkonkoma, and Connors, 53, a retired NYPD police officer and volunteer Islip Terrace firefighter were among 22 people honored Thursday with Carnegie medals for heroism.

The men had been working as security guards at St. Charles Hospital when they got a call about a fire in the chapel. After searching the hospital's main chapel and finding no fire, the men noticed smoke at the nearby convent and ran over. When they arrived, another nun met them at the door and said someone was still inside. The two then kicked in the front right door to the convent. "We were met by a wall of smoke," Surbito recalled Thursday.

Connors said that he heard Benedict shout once they were inside and then nothing for five anxious minutes while they searched for her. "You could feel the heat and see the orange flames through the smoke," Connors said Thursday.

While taking turns getting fresh air from a window Connors had opened, the two men continued to search for Benedict, who was on the floor of her room.

"I crawled up to where Tom was . . . and felt around her door," Surbito said. "About 10 feet in . . . I felt sister's body."

The two men carried Benedict down the stairs and to the firefighters who had just arrived. Benedict was in the hospital for two weeks and returned to work two months later. Connors and Surbito were treated for smoke inhalation and released that day.

A St. Charles spokesman said the convent was burned beyond repair and has been demolished.

"I feel that my faith is much stronger," said Benedict, now living in a Port Jefferson apartment. "God plans our lives better than we do. If they were not on the property, I don't know what would have happened."

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