Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Local Hero

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;


Anonymous said...

Thank you for telling your story.Very well written and moving. I imagined it with you.Tragic and beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Ty for sharing your story. I'm sorry for your loss.

Connie said...

I remember that night quite clearly since I lived two houses down. A mother of five was killed and Kevin. I remember Bruce who did get severely burnt. Was Kevin his step brother? I remember not sleeping for a long time. The fire was started by an angry boyfriend who poured gasoline in the hallway. I remember the Boyles who mother died from a fall. Also the Abuiso family lost their son Pepe who got hit by a train. He was a friend of mine.