When Deputy Chief Chris Bright got the emergency call on Reservoir Avenue last Friday morning around 5:45 a.m. in Central Fire, there was no address immediately given, but he simply knew.
79 Reservoir Ave.
It was an address he had memorized as a child because it was where he grew up.
It was also still where his uncles lived, and he knew that they would need his help.
One of them, Bobby Toomey, Bright heroically saved – crawling through stifling smoke without the help of a breathing mask.
For the other – Dennis Toomey, 85 – the fire was just too intense, and Bright wasn’t able to save him.
Speaking with media at the scene, Bright said it was the worst emergency call of his career – a long career where he has seen numerous heartaches and tragedies. He also said that in responding to Reservoir Avenue, despite not knowing the house number, he just had a bad feeling and knew it would be his childhood home.
The original 9-1-1 call came from residents next door at 77 Reservoir Ave.
Chief Gene Doherty said Bright gave directions upon arrival and immediately ran inside – as he knew the layout of the house and he knew where everyone would be.
“When we got there, the whole back of the building was roaring with fire,” he said. “He went for Bobby first because he knew he would be downstairs. The smoke was heavy and down to about 18 or 20 inches for the floor and he went in without a [breathing mask]. He called out to him and heard him. He pulled him out and brought him outside, and Bobby’s no lightweight. That was hard. Then he went back in the first floor for Dennis and there was such heavy fire, it just beat us back. It was a very, very valiant effort.”
Firefighters continued to fight the mammoth blaze well into the morning hours and brought it under containment by noon.
However, Dennis Toomey was not located immediately and there was a question about where two occupants were that lived in the upstairs apartment.
The upstairs neighbors had gotten out of the fire early and had been staying with a neighbor. However, State Police K-9 units had to be brought in to locate Dennis Toomey, which they did just before noontime.
Fighting the fire, Doherty said, was particularly difficult given the extremely cold conditions last Friday and the large amounts of snow on the steep Reservoir Avenue hill.
The biggest challenge, though, was getting water on the fire upon arrival.
Like the fire on Hichborn Avenue on Feb. 1, fire crews had a very difficult time finding a working hydrant to use.
A parked plow truck blocked a hydrant at 180 Reservoir Ave., while a hydrant near the fire and another at Broadway and Cheever were frozen. A fourth hydrant on Broadway near the Post Office was completely covered in snow and had to be shoveled out by Everett firefighters for some time.
“One of the hoses that supplied most of the water for the fire came from Winthrop Avenue and Broadway,” he said. “That’s at least a quarter-mile away from the fire.”
Asked it the water problems affected the rescue efforts, Doherty said it did not. However, he did say the damage to the house – which is a total loss – might have been lessened.
“I don’t think that was a factor in the fatality,” he said. “I do think it was a factor in the damages to the house. We didn’t have enough water to make an aggressive attack. We had to adapt to the conditions. The fire really got going. The building is a total loss. The Building Department condemned it and it will have to be taken out with a crane. The whole roof collapsed during the fire.”
Similar water problems faced Revere firefighters on Feb. 1 when they had to use a hydrant on Shirley Avenue to douse the flames on Hichborn Street.
Doherty said the fire was threatening to spread to 77 Reservoir Ave. and was singing that house so much that fire crews took a hose line into that house and fought the fire from inside that house.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office was on scene most of the day Friday, and quickly determined that the fire was accidental – likely electrical.
“The Fire Marshal’s Office said it was accidental and it appeared to be an electrical problem in the ceiling of the basement,” Doherty said. “It had been going some time before it got to the first floor.”