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Bill Primavera
Bill Primavera

“House on fire!” the police officer shouted in one incomplete sentence when I asked why the road not far from my home in YorktownHeights was blocked. It’s always upsetting to hear about a house fire, but when it’s in your own neighborhood, it takes on special meaning.

As it happens, the road block was between me and my appointment to show a house. Making a U-turn and a few other errant turns somehow landed me just a half block from the fire, which I could see as a blazing outpouring of grey smoke punctuated by the red lights of the fire trucks and emergency vehicles. It was a chilling sight.

I turned around yet again and, sick at heart, eventually make it to my destination.

By the time I finished my showing and got home, it was being reported that while there were some injuries and four dogs seem to have perished, all human life was spared.

A little later, it was reported that two neighbors–Brian Avery and Robert Cole–had rescued the homeowner, Maria Eliseo, from a second-story window with an extension ladder and that one of the dogs named Nero, who had alerted the household about the fire, may still be alive but is lost. By the end of the day, all that remained of the house was a burnt out black hole in the ground.

Ever since the tragic fire in Stamford, Conn. last Christmas when a homeowner’s three children and two parents were lost, I have been wanting to write an update about fire safety in the home. This latest blaze was my cue to call my friend Joe Pascarelli, who retired from a 30-year career as a Mount Vernon fireman and now runs a house painting business.

He also volunteers time annually to appear in full gear as “Fireman Joe” at various schools to teach children about fire safety at home. His passion for this effort was born in tragedy.

Around Thanksgiving 25 years ago, Pascarelli arrived at a fire scene to find a mother in front of the burning house screaming that her baby was inside. He was unable to reach and rescue her baby.

“I had to ‘see somebody’ for a while after that,” Pascarelli said, “and then I decided to do what I could to work with children, teaching them about fire safety in the home.”

He offers the following main fire safety points for children and parents:

  • Remember that the sound of a smoke detector can save your life or that of a loved one. Be sure that batteries are replaced annually, including detectors that are hard-wired with battery backup.
  • Families should practice the acronym EDITH (Exit Drill in the Home): Know two ways out of the house and, once out, never return to get belongings or pets. Have a planned meeting place for family members outside the home and call 911 from a cell or neighbor’s phone.
  • Have oil burners serviced annually to prevent misfire and puff backs. Also, have chimneys cleaned annually for wood stoves and fireplaces.
  • Place supplemental heating sources, kerosene lamps and electric at least 36 inches away from any combustible material.
  • Dispose of fireplace embers and ashes into a metal container located a distance from the house.
  • Be especially careful during the holiday season when most house fires occur. Make sure that extension cords are not frayed, don’t overload circuits and don’t leave Christmas tree lights on when out of the house or asleep.
  • Special notes for children: Always sleep with the bedroom door closed. If the door is hot, never open it. If there is smoke, stay close to the floor and don’t hide.

Any group or school that wants Fireman Joe as a guest speaker can contact him directly at 914-330-3889.

My community is actively engaged in helping the Eliseo family, looking for “hero” dog Nero and contributing clothes and funds through social media.

When I stopped by the property over the weekend, Mr. Eliseo was there with his wife and their son and daughter thanking a small group of supporters for their efforts, adding that he was thankful to God and his community for saving his family. He asked that we continue to look for Nero.

It’s a wonderful thing to see neighbors caringly engaged in their community, helping other neighbors, sometimes literally saving their lives.

Bill Primavera is a Residential and Commercial Realtor® associated with Coldwell Banker, as well as a publicist and journalist who writes regularly as The Home Guru. For questions about home maintenance or to engage him to help you buy or sell a home, he can be emailed at or called directly at 914-522-2076.



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