My Only Regret



Avenue St. John & Beck Street, Bronx, NY 10455

Neighborhood: Bronx, Outer Boroughs

Arriving before the engine, with fire blowing out two windows on the third floor and people in the street yelling, “There’s two kids in there” our asses are about to be kicked and there is nothing we can do about it.

It’s 1977, and Lieutenant Annello leads the way as usual.

He is simply the best fire officer I have ever worked with.

During the late 60’s when the “Red Devil” first invaded The Bronx and turned it into a battlefield, Anello was there holding the line. Upon his promotion to lieutenant: he didn’t go far, he came to Ladder 48 and we were lucky to get him. I would and did follow that man into places I wouldn’t dare go alone, his bravery covered me like a blanket. In addition to being fearless, he had a sixth sense for finding victims trapped in fires, there are many people breathing today who owe those breaths to him!

The forcible team is Pat and me and we are right on Anello’s tail as he arrives on the fire floor. It’s eerily quiet in this tenement public hallway. Everyone who could get out has and the reassuring sounds of the engine guys stretching a line up the stairs are absent. The only water we have is the two and a half gallons in the extinguisher that Pat is carrying and with what is awaiting us inside this apartment, that two and a half gallons is a bad joke. The only thing giving me the balls to keep going is Lt. Anello leading the way.

I’m guiding the halligan as Pat pounds it with his axe forcing it between the door and the jam driving them apart and in seconds we pop the lock and the door swings inward. The smoke feels solid as it pours out and hits us, day turns into poisonous night and the only sound emanating from the apartment is the devil, crackling its contempt for us.

Inside the door and to the right a hallway runs the length of the apartment with rooms opening into it from the left. We hurriedly crawl past the first two rooms to penetrate and search as deeply as possible. Fire controls the entire rear of the flat and now with the entrance door open another outlet presents itself to the devil and he decides to use it. Pat’s hitting the fire trying to hold it back when his can empties and our forward motion is stopped. The devil now free of any attempt to hold him in check rolls along the ceiling and gets behind us trying to block our only way out.

Unable to go any further and with only seconds remaining before this whole place lights up, Lt. Anello starts to search the room furthest in and I drop back and start into the room directly opposite the entry door. My room is the kitchen and believe me my search was fast, a quick crawl straight down the middle figuring that if anyone is down I’ll bump into them as I make my way to the far side of the room. Since the engine hasn’t arrived yet we don’t take any windows, this fire is big enough without us feeding it more air. Encountering no victims I am already leaving the room when Anello orders us out of the apartment.

Back in the relative safety of the public hallway with the apartment door shut behind us, I’m greatly relived to hear the engine making its way up the stairs and several minutes later after their line is charged and Anello has given them the layout of the apartment we are ready to make our push back in. Reopening the door the fire blows out at us and the engine takes the lead driving that motherfucker back.

Following behind them we enter the kitchen as they continue to push the fire back down the hallway. We can do a better search now that a line covers us and I am taking out the glass in the kitchen window when Anello’s sixth sense brings him to the cabnet beneath the sink where he spots a little arm sticking out.

Inside mixed together with the cleaning supplies he finds the two boys, aged five and three who started this blaze by playing with matches while left alone by their mother who went grocery shopping. The little guy died with his arms wrapped around his big brother, who died while trying to save them both by closing themselves inside the cabinet where they sought refuge from the fire. It would have been a touching scene if it weren’t so heart breakingly fucking horrible.

Pat and I each grab one and remove them to the public hallway on the floor below the fire where we hand them off to other firemen who start CPR.

Just then coming up the stairs a bag of groceries in each arm is Mom. Reality hits her square in the face, with her kids dead on the floor and firemen trying to breath them back to life, she drops the groceries and screams, “My babies.”

I got right in her face and hollered, you didn’t give a fuck about your babies when you left them alone did you!

Why did I do that?

Was I angry with myself for missing them and taking it out on her? Regrets are usless but if it were possible to change just one thing in my life, I would take that mother in my arms and console her instead of adding to her torment on the worst day of her life.

I don’t know if those kids were alive when I crawled past less than a foot from their hiding place, but I do know the “What If’s” would have driven me nuts a long time ago except for one fact.

I know in my guts, I gave them my best shot!

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§ 3 Responses to “My Only Regret”

  • Bob says:

    Hi there, this might be a long shot but somewhere out there is an audio recording of this story I believe read by the author. I have not been able to find it again since. Does anyone know where I can find the audio reading of this story?? Thanks in advance
    – Bob

  • Alisson Wood says:

    Hi Bob–

    Unfortunately, we don’t have the audio recording on file, and are unsure of where to point you to find it. Our apologies!

    -Mr. B’s editors

  • Cap Luc says:

    Bob, reply if still searching for the audio. I can help you out.

§ Leave a Reply

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