'They are heroes': Chief praises couple who alerted neighbors to fatal blaze
A man inside the burning home dropped his 1-year-old into the waiting arms of Patrick Burke Jr. from a second story window as the structure burned on Nov. 26
By Diane Pineiro-Zucker
Daily Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.
KINGSTON, N.Y. — Patrick Burke Jr. was sound asleep on his living room couch on Saturday, Nov. 26, when he got up at about 4:10 a.m. to use the bathroom and noticed what he said looked like a small fire on the porch of the home across the street.
"I went back to the couch and seen like a glowing outside, like the sun coming up, and knew it was not normal. I just looked out my window and saw the front porch on fire. ... Threw my pants and sneakers on and at that point my wife (Megan) had already run out the front door and ran on over there," Patrick said.
Megan, a dental hygienist who works in Red Hook, said she called 911 before going across the street and, once she got there, began yelling repeatedly to alert the residents who were still asleep inside.
Patrick said he first tried the front door but burned his thumb on the hot doorknob. "I ran back down the (front) stairs. My wife was pounding on the side door and the windows. We proceeded around the back and the back door was open, thankfully," Patrick said. "She went in first. She was the first one in."
Megan said she made it about 10 feet into the burning home when smoke and extreme heat forced her out. "I yanked her out and said, 'Get out of here.' I went back in and started yelling again," Patrick said.
At that point, the mother of the two children in the home came downstairs with the oldest of her two children, a 3-year-old.
After he too was forced out by heat and smoke, Patrick said he "looked up and there was the dad standing there with another kid."
The 1-year-old child was dropped from a second-story back window into Patrick's arms followed by his father who made the 10-foot jump on his own, as Patrick broke his fall.
"He then jumped out. I caught him and then the first fire truck showed up at that point," Patrick said.
The fire department has said the first units arrived within two minutes of the dispatch and encountered heavy fire on the first and second floors of the two- and one-half story single- family home. A third alarm was called at 4:12 am.
Three women escaped on their own, one left through the front door and two exited via the back door, Fire Chief Chris Rea said.
Patrick and Megan said they have lived across from the Beesmer family for 20 years and that the Beesmers have lived there for longer than that.
"We know the entire family. We grew up with the sons. Yep, we know them all," Megan said. "We've known this family to varying degrees our whole lives."
Patrick and Megan both said they didn't think twice before running into the burning home. "I don't know what goes through your mind but I knew there's kids in there and I knew they must have not known what was going on because of the short time that this thing took off and went nuts, like someone poured gas on it," Patrick said.
What the couple did was heroic, Rea said.
"They're their neighbors, and they know one neighbor is still missing and unaccounted for. It's about living in a neighborhood where people care about each other," Rea said. "It was instinct."
"It was like a reaction. It wasn't even a thought process," Patrick said. "Neither one of us thought twice about it," Megan added. "You just went."
Although firefighters often warn against running into a burning building, "nothing they did was wrong," Rea said. "They acted like caring neighbors. They did nothing wrong. ... They called 911 first, that was the best thing they could have done."
The chief continued, "They went beyond, way beyond, by entering in and trying to call out. If you don't go in far enough and you call out for the individual they may not be able to see you but they come to the voice. ... Everything they did was courageous."
"They're heroes. The bottom line is, they're heroes," Rea said.
At a press conference in the driveway of the Burkes home on Wednesday, Mayor Steve Noble noted the quick response of city firefighters. "But without the neighbors and their quick response, we already had a tragedy here but we would have had bigger tragedy without the Burke family risking their own lives," Noble said.
He said the Burke family's heroism will be recognized next year at the city's annual fall banquet. "They've already been informed as of today that they're going to receive this honor," he said.
Donald Beesmer, 77, a resident of the home, was unable to escape on his own and was brought out by firefighters. He was declared dead at the HealthAlliance Hospital, Deputy Chief Darren Bondar said.
Rea said an autopsy will determine Beesmer's cause of death but that the fire was hot enough to melt some of the home's glass windows. "A respiratory burn will get you quicker than the CO will," he said. "It's safe to say he sustained burns and he inhaled, we don't know what, the autopsy will determine that."
One of those hurt, a 43-year-old woman who was not identified, was hospitalized at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla with burns.
In a Facebook post on Monday, the fire department said there were six occupants in the home and, in large part because of the Burkes, five were out when they arrived only minutes after Megan called 911.
In the post, the fire department sent "their heartfelt condolences to the family who suffered the loss of a loved one, their home and their belongings."
The fire was the first fatal fire in the city in more than a year.
On Nov. 23, 2021, a 71-year-old man died at Westchester Medical Center two days after he was pulled from a fire at the Brigham Senior Housing complex on O'Neil Street.
On Wednesday, Rea said a dead domestic cat was found among the ruins.
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