Friday, July 17, 2009

Kevin McQuade: Local Hero by Charlie Gili

It must have been about 1965-67. I wish I could remember exactly when it was, but it had to be around those years. I was still going to school at I.H.M. and probably in the 4th or 5th grade at best.
Only about half way through my 8 years at that place.
Still in the "old" IHM.

The kids at IHM had to go to PS 10 for a couple of years, while the new school was being built. Those of us that got bused "up the hill" to PS 10 and that had attended the old IHM, PS 10 and then the new IHM, referred to Immaculate Heart that way more than others, since we experienced all three situations during our 8 year, Catholic Grammar School education.

Our family lived on East 2nd Street, between Albermarle Road and Caton Avenue. We were just a half block away (south) from IHM. Other kids who walked to school, from points further south, had to pass right in front of our house to get to school, so we saw a lot of IHM'ers on school mornings.

One of the kids who passed our house regularly came from East 2nd Street too, but he lived a bloc k further up, between Albermarle and Church Avenue and on the same side of the street as us. His name was Kevin McQuade and he was a year or two older than me. I remember that the Boyles, Chris Abuso and Mikey Pierce lived on that block too and Mike Scotto lived across the street from those guys. There were a couple of other IHM families on that block as well, but I can't recall their names.

Kevin was one of those guys who had a reputation in the neighborhood. He was good looking, with blonde hair and a respected guy with his fists and a real street jock. Great stickball player. I recall sitting on the curb on Albermarle Road, between East 2nd and East 3rd Street watching Kevin and the guys a few years older than me play stickball, just before I was old enough to play out in the street on my own. Kevin had a reputation as being a tough guy who stuck up for the little guy and who would face down the bullies that came along every now and then. I think he was an Altar Boy as well.

I remember seeing Kevin pass our house in the mornings heading to school. He was one of those guys who would wave to and say good morning to and if he acknowledged me with a wave or a nod, well, that sort of made me feel pretty cool. I really looked up to Kevin and wanted that reassurance from him somehow, that I was at least a worthy enough kid to get recognized by him.

We were wakened one summer (I think) night to that awful sound of fire truck and police car sirens. Sometimes those sounds were distant ones and you'd wake up in the morning with only a vague recollection of having heard anything at all. Other times and this was one of them, you'd be wakened and scared to death. When our family all woke up and smelled smoke coming from someplace, we went outside to the front of our house on East 2nd Street.

Many of our neighbors had done the same. My grandfather and grandmother came out from the house they lived in at 208, next to ours. You could see heads out of windows and people out on the street in all directions, but everyone, including the folks in 199, the apartment buildings across the street, had one thing in common.

Everyone was looking up towards Church Avenue, across Albermarle Road from our block. There was a mass of flashing lights and uniformed personnel running around in the distance, just a block away from where we stood. Worse than that, you could see large orange-yellow a nd red flames, lapping out of a building on the same side of the block and clouds of smoke billowing up through the beams of street lights. I could hear people crying and praying aloud and saying, "Oh my God, Oh my God." I can recall my Italian grandmother making the sign of the cross and my mom and dad putting their arms around my brothers and me.

I think my dad or my grandfather or both, walked up to see what had happened, but I didn't learn the details until the next day.

A few people had been killed by that fire on East 2nd Street in those early morning hours. I don't remember how many. Two, maybe three I think. The one thing I do remember is that Kevin McQuade was one of them.

There were several buildings about mid-block that were all the same. Three or four family homes and there were fire escapes on the front of those buildings, with small lawns surrounded by bushes out in front.

Apparently Kevin had gotten out ok, but he went back in to try and help the others that were trapped. He came out with a little kid named Bruce, I think. Bruce had been badly burned, but Kevin had saved his life. I believe that after the Bruce rescue, Kevin went back in to that raging inferno again, to try and save others in trouble, but this time he didn't come back out and he and a couple of other souls were lost forever from this world.

I've wanted to tell this story for years and I hope there are a few folks out there who remember some more of the details about Kevin's short life and his tragic death.

The building sat there, boarded up and smelling like fire and ash and death, for days or weeks or even months maybe. I don't remember. I do remember that whenever I walked up that block, I crossed the street for yea rs, so I'd be as far away from that building as possible. It gave me the creeps and at the same time, I always felt like I was gonna cry, not from fear, but from the downright sadness of knowing what happened there and the mental picture I'd conjured up of a young, smoke-blackened, courageous Kevin McQuade stepping back through the smoke and into eternity.

Kev was just a kid, but he was a real hero. In a matter of a few tragic moments this young kid from East 2nd Street became a man, a hero and then an angel.

I’m glad that I've been able to tell his story someplace, as best as I can. It's a sad thing somehow, when our heroes fade into history and their lives and valor slip through the cracks of time. Kevin McQuade deserves better. God bless you Kev.

Charlie Gili & nbsp;


Josh said...

Thanks Charlie for remembering the courage and heroism of Kevin. It's really eerie to read about your reaction when walking by his apartment building after the fire.
I had the same sadness and a chill would go down my spine looking up at the boarded windows and black soot on the bricks everytime I walked by his apartment on the way up to your house. May he rest in peace.

Mike Silvestri said...

Hey Charlie,

I stumbled across this website and started reading some of the stuff you had written. It’s great to read about the old neighborhood. Wonder how Uncle Louie is doing. I remember he used to always call you Gilliam. It’s fun to read about the guys I grew up with like you, Josh, Greg, Joey and Sal. Can you believe what Joey has done with his life? An Archbishop, no less!!! Too bad about Inky. Last time I saw him was in 1999 at the Breezy Point Surf Club when he was visiting Jimbo Drudy. We had a cabana a few doors down from Jimbo’s. Got to see a lot of the old IHM crowd down there. Anyway, read the story on Kevin and it brought back a lot of memories of the fire and walking past the house on East 2nd Street after it burned down. The only thing I will say is that I believe it was Kevin’s brother George who died in the fire. My best friend from IHM, Scott Fiata’s mom was their sister and I remember him talking about his uncle’s after he moved to the neighborhood in 1969. As far as I know, Kevin went to Bishop Ford and graduated in 1973. I keep in touch with Scott and will give him a call to confirm that.

As for the website, boy was growing up in Kensington fun. We had it all!! Didn’t matter what time of the year it was, we were always out playing some sport. For those of you who grew up there, you may remember the Plank. The Plank was this slab of concrete on McDonald & C right above where the F train went underground or above ground depending on your point of view. We had some great softball and football games there. Of course, it was covered in broken glass, which made fielding ground balls interesting! When it snowed, we played tackle football. With no equipment!! Then some of us “graduated” to PS 179’s schoolyard, which was great if you were right handed. Those of you who grew up there will remember why. Some of us drifted up to East 5th Street Park or PS 130. Some great basketball, hockey, softball and football were played there. And of course, there was Harold’s on Ft. Hamilton and East 3rd!!

Ron, great job on setting this up. I don’t really remember you, but I think I am 6 years older than you. I grew up on McDonald & C in the house right next to the old Chevron gas station. That was the corner everyone Charlie talked about hung out. The house always shook when the F train passed!!

Mike Silvestri

Josh said...

Hey Mike!!
It's great to read your comments and hope you're doing well.
Yes, Louie is alive and well and still living in Brooklyn (Bay Ridge) after a short time at a retirement village in Penn. He's exactly the same as you remembered-loud, opinionated and cantankerous as ever-see Ron's older post about Louie on this site! I still keep in touch with all the guys-Charlie is still in Brooklyn, Sal lives in Queens, and Greg is in N.J. I haven't talked to Tommy in a long time but he lives on Mcdonald near Caton.Yeah, we had some great and crazy times on the corner and The Plank!!

Anonymous said...

Hey Mike!
Great to hear from you! Please do let us know about the Kevin McQuade story. If I'm wrong about my facts I will be glad in a way, but nonetheless a very sad event. This event has been engrained in my mind for years and if I'm wrong, well, I guess Louie was right and all the pot smoking really did damage my brain cells!!
I just "joined" the IHM Classmates thing too and I think I saw your name on there as well. Right you are about the "Gilliam" name...the guys still call me that most of the time! And Josh was/is "The Kid." Very happy to know guys like you are still around!!
Charlie aka Gilliam

Anonymous said...

I do belive Kev,s brother died in that fire. And I am 100 percent sure that kev is alive and well...He was and still is a hero.. He got some scars from it but he walks among us...Last I heard he was working on the ferry system.......mark s e 8th st

Anonymous said...

Hey Guys. Kevin McQuade is my Uncle. Actually, it was Kevins older brother Joseph McQuade. He had just come back from the Marines and was trying to become a cop. I remember my Mom and her family crying as Joseph was burned badly. The kid he rescued was Bruce Perks.
I was a little kid then, but remember my Uncle Joseph standing on then fire escape yelling "Where the F)(*^( is the fire department??! and the window of the apartment underneath him exploded with flames.
From what I was told, The firemen called it a BBQ. It was horrible.
But thanks for the post. I thought I was the only one to think about that day.

Anonymous said...

The Strazza Family remembers the story. For those of you who remember the name Strazza, Mrs Ann Strazza( IHM teacher ) is alive and well at 89 years young and living in NJ....

Kenny Strazza.....

Anonymous said...

To Kevins Newphew..Please let Kevin know Mark from east 8 street tried to reach out to him. SI number disconected. (Dam Cell,s) no one keeps a land lines anymore. Hope all is sparkie3500at yahoo if he wants to get back to me.. Tell him Stanley is still haunting the place...old joke.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful to hear that Mrs. Strazza is alive and well..! She was my teacher in the 5th (I think)grade at IHM and my year younger twin brothers Anthony and Chris Gili had her as their teacher the next year! I have fond memories of her. Please tell her that the Gili boys send her their thanks for being such a great teacher and we haven't forgotten her!
Charlie Gili

Ken said...

Good subjects and good stories.
Thank you!

I walked a lot of the same ground as you in the mid-50s to mid 60s. It is good to see it written about.