Joe Woloszyn was in his bedroom looking across the street when he saw the flames.
Woloszyn, 20, had come home from the Mets game and was watching television at around 1:30 a.m. on May 24 when he noticed his elderly neighbor Roger Humes’ house on Harwich Road in East Rockaway was on fire.
“My son came in yelling,” recalled Joe’s mother, Trish. “He said, ‘Mom, Dad, Roger’s house is on fire!’”
Joe, Trish, her husband John and their daughter, Jackie, 17, ran toward the house, where Humes lives with his daughter, Stacy. Trish said they immediately noticed the flames were very tall and Jackie quickly called 911. The family pounded on the door to alert Humes, but there was no response. Then suddenly, Stacy came running out of the front door with a birdcage in her hands.
Upon seeing Stacy, Trish frantically asked where her father was, and learned that he was still in the house. Humes has emphysema and uses an oxygen tank to help him breathe. Joe and John found him sitting in a portable wheelchair in the living room and he wasn’t able to move. “He was saying that he couldn’t breathe,” Trish recounted.
Humes said he had trouble sleeping that night and it was the only reason he was awake at such an early hour. He said he noticed what he thought were spotlights in his backyard, but then quickly realized they were flames. He knew Stacy was asleep with the air conditioner on, and exerted all of his energy banging on the door and yelling for her to wake up. “I woke up my daughter and screamed for her to get out and we got to the bottom of the stairs and I just couldn’t go anymore,” Humes said. “Luckily, there were these angels standing at the front door.”
Those angels were the Wolozyns, who ran into the living room. The flames began to engulf the kitchen and Trish said they knew there was very little time before the fire spread. Joe and John each took one of Humes’ shoulders and Trish grabbed his legs to carry him out of the house. Trish said she is a nurse and knew that because Humes has trouble breathing, there were likely bigger oxygen tanks in the house, which could explode.
The family got Humes out to the porch, but since they were just outside the door, Trish said, they were worried he wasn’t out of harm’s way. At that time, Joe went next door to alert Humes’ elderly neighbors, Frank and Helen Luisi, that the house next door was on fire and spreading quickly toward their fence.
“We had no more than one minute at most, a minute and a half,” Humes said about the flames spreading. “If we hadn’t gotten out of there, we wouldn’t have. It was wild.”
Soon after, the East Rockaway Fire Department arrived on the scene and firefighters assisted in moving Humes across the street, but his breathing was not good and conditions were worsening. “As soon as they got him out, the black smoke started coming,” Trish said.
As the Fire Department battled the blaze, more concerned neighbors came out to see what was happening. “They came to respond because everybody loves Roger,” Trish said. “So we wanted to do what we could for him.”
Trish described Humes as someone who is positive, bright, cheerful and very knowledgeable. She said her children have gone over to him for help with book reports and that he is into history and has been a positive influence on her family for the past 27 years.
Jack Felbinger, the first assistant chief for the ERFD, said the department responded to the fire shortly before 2 a.m. and was on the scene for more than two hours. The firefighters stretched four lines to battle the blaze.
With help from the Lynbrook, Oceanside, Malverne, Rockville Centre, Lakeview and Hewlett fire departments, as well as the Nassau County Police Department, the fire was eventually extinguished and no injuries were reported. The county fire marshal was still investigating the cause as the Herald went to press.
There was substantial damage to the rear of the house, and it will likely have to be rebuilt, Trish said, adding that Humes self-renovated the home with his late wife, Anne. “Their whole life was in that house,” she said. “It’s really sad.”
Roger and Stacy are staying at Roger’s other daughter Tammy Pacheo’s home in East Rockaway as they await an estimate on the costs of repairs.
Trish said she and her family did what any good neighbors would do.
“He’s a great neighbor and a great person,” she said of Humes. “He’s done a lot for the community and the neighborhood and we would do it again in a heartbeat.”