People were running out of buildings hysterically and the scene was becoming chaotic as a triple-decker began to go up in flames.
Public safety personnel had yet to arrive.
People were screaming. Others were taking pictures. And some alert observers were calling 9-1-1.
Officer Gerard Salvati was just around the corner, on Ocean Avenue, when the calls came in. Up to that point, it had been a very normal day, pretty uneventful, he said.
That all changed in a matter of minutes.
He pulled up in front of the house and took note of the scene.
Simultaneously, Action Emergency Services worker Michael Zaccaria pulled around, having been at the Garfield School talking to his wife and having seen the huge plume of smoke.
Suddenly, just as the two men arrived, a 26-year-old woman named Patricia went screaming and running into the burning building.
Salvati couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
“Stop, police, don’t go in there!” he yelled.
But she kept going, sprinting into the front door as clouds of smoke began pouring out.
Zaccaria took note as well, and was quick to jump to action.
“No sooner had I got out of the cruiser, the woman started yelling and ran into the house,” said Salvati, a 16-year veteran of the Revere Police. “I didn’t know if she didn’t understand English or if she was just frightened, but she didn’t stop. I ran in with her trying to keep her out of harm’s way. There was heavy smoke and the heat was extraordinary. We couldn’t see anything.”
At Salvati’s side was Zaccaria, and they followed the young woman into a bedroom, where they barely made out the silhouette of a man lying on the ground, incapacitated.
“We got 10 feet in and hit a wall of heat and smoke,” said Zaccaria. “The fire was already well involved at the back of the house. We could barely see anything.”
Once inside the bedroom, another complication arose for the two men.
The woman began to be overcome by the smoke.
Somehow, Salvati and Zaccaria assisted the woman to her feet and, at the same time, dragged the man from the bedroom through the hallway and out the front door – all the while enduring scorching heat and stifling smoke.
“We pulled him up and just backed up dragging him along the floor,” said Salvati. “We couldn’t see. There was all this debris on the ground. You had to act in seconds. There’s no time to think. You just have to act on your instincts.
“That few minutes in time seemed like an eternity coming out,” he continued. “We didn’t have any equipment. Through the heat and the smoke and dragging him out – that few minutes was the longest thing.”
Once outside, EMTs from Cataldo Ambulance treated the ailing man, and he did make a full recovery.
Reflecting on the situation this week, both Salvati and Zaccaria said that had they not acted, there might have been two lives lost.
“It could have been an awful lot worse,” said Zaccaria. “If she didn’t run in there, her father wouldn’t have made it. We only had a window of a minute or two to get out ourselves.”
He also credited the young woman with being the real hero in it all.
“She’s 26 and has six kids,” he said. “She’s not trained. She’s never done that before and she went into a burning building. If she didn’t run in there, we would have never known about her father.”
Salvati said such situations are the nature of having a job in public safety.
“The jobs we do as police officers and firefighters are such that people are running out and we’re running in,” he said. “Every day you never know what’s going to happen. Even on just a detail, you never know. If I didn’t get there that exact moment and see her running into the house at that exact time, the consequences could have been a lot worse.”