Amid heroic rescue in Revere fire, a family’s loss

REVERE — When the call came in before dawn Friday for a house fire on Reservoir Avenue, the dispatcher did not give the address of Chris Bright’s childhood home.

But something told the deputy fire chief that it was his family’s longtime residence that was being consumed by flames.

“I kind of had a feeling it was going to be 79 [Reservoir]. I don’t know why. I just had a bad feeling,” Bright recalled.

Bright knew where to find his two uncles who shared the family home, but he was unable to reach both of them in time. Bright rescued his uncle Bobby Toomey. His uncle Dennis Toomey was later found dead amid the burned rubble.


Revere Fire Chief Gene Doherty said firefighters were hampered in battling the blaze because nearby fire hydrants were either frozen or unreachable.

One hydrant near 183 Reservoir Ave. was blocked by a truck, and another nearby had been buried in snow from a plow, he said. Two other hydrants, one located on Reservoir Avenue and the other at a nearby intersection, had frozen in the predawn chill, Doherty said.

Firefighters were forced to draw water from a hydrant located about a quarter of a mile away, he said. Doherty said he did not believe the inability to use closer hydrants caused the death but said it made it more difficult for firefighters to control the blaze.

“We can only stress to the public, they really should think about making sure their hydrants are dug out, especially with the storm coming up Sunday,” he said.

Brian Arrigo, an at-large city councilor in Revere, said he and Councilor Stephen Reardon plan to introduce a proposal next week to require property owners to remove snow from hydrants or face a penalty.

The Toomey brothers had lived at 79 Reservoir Ave. for decades, and for many years, their relatives, the Bright family, also resided upstairs, neighbors said. More recently, Dennis Toomey had been renting out the second-floor unit. He was known in the neighborhood for sitting on his front porch and chatting up everyone who passed by.


When Bright arrived at the house around 5:49 a.m., flames were already tearing through the building.

“We tried to get into the first floor, [but there was] heavy fire. Got pushed back,” Bright said.

Firefighters rushed to 79 Reservoir Avenue around 5:49 a.m.
Firefighters rushed to 79 Reservoir Avenue around 5:49 a.m.Scott Eisen for The Boston Globe

Driven back by the flames, Bright said, he headed around back to the basement entrance to look for his uncle Bobby.

“I knew my uncle slept down there,” Bright said. “I was calling to him, calling because of the smoke. He called out, and I went in, grabbed him, and dragged him out.”

For a while, Bright’s uncle Dennis was listed as unaccounted for, but Doherty announced at midday that a State Police cadaver dog had found a man in his 80s in a first-floor bedroom under debris from the collapsed roof. Officials did not provide his name or exact age.

“It’s so sad,” Doherty said. “He was able to get one of his uncles out. . . . But he was unable to get back to the rear of the first floor. There was such heavy fire. It really got a good headway on us, and he wasn’t able to get there.”

Dennis Toomey had just finished renovating the home, his nephew said.

“It was looking beautiful. Really did,” said Bright, whose late father was also a Revere firefighter. “They wanted to fix up the old house.”


The tenants upstairs said they had tried to warn Dennis of the fire.

Rosalina Sanchez-Pena, 28, said she smelled smoke after saying goodbye to her husband, who was leaving for work. Her husband, Abraham Valle, translated his wife’s account from Spanish.

When she went to Dennis’s door, she said, the apartment was already overrun with fire and smoke.

“She yelled, ‘Dennis!’ She called Dennis to get out of there,” Valle said. “She couldn’t do anything because Dennis couldn’t hear anything.”

A next-door neighbor, Felicia Puopolo, said Sanchez-Pena had saved her family by ringing the doorbell and alerting them to the fire.

“I heard her screaming, ‘I need help! I need help,’ ” Puopolo said. “So I called 911 and then my mother opened the door and she said, ‘Oh my God! The house is on fire!’ ”

The fire melted siding and shattered windows in Puopolo’s home, driving the family out.

State troopers assigned to State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan’s office were on the scene investigating the cause of the fire Friday.

Doherty said investigators were focusing on the basement and rear right side of the building.

Coan said the fire was not considered suspicious.

Dennis Toomey had worked for the Revere School Department and had been a longtime political supporter of Mayor Dan Rizzo.

“He’s a sweetheart of a guy,” Rizzo said. “It’s very, very heartbreaking to see something like this.”


Puopolo said Dennis Toomey and his brother took care of each other.

“I don’t know what Bobby’s going to do without his brother,” Puopolo said. “I’m so sad Dennis didn’t get out.”

Globe correspondent Aneri Pattani and John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.