Volunteer firefighters and a good samaritan couldn't save a house from flames on Sunday night, but they may have saved lives. And in the wake of personal disaster, the community has rallied to help two residents faced with rebuilding.
"I feel very fortunate that I'm alive," said Sean Barry, surveying the damage of his residence the following day. "You can always replace pictures."
Eighteen hours prior, a crowd gathered to watch the house he shares with partner Ray Anderson burn to condemnation. Nearly 50 firefighters from all corners of Bergen County battled the flames for several hours.
On Sunday night just before 7:30 p.m., grease from steaks cooking on the stove top ignited into flames and shot up to the roof.
"It was a panicked situation," Barry recalled. "It was extremely like an out-of-body experience."
Sean Massaro was the first on scene.
An 18-year-old Eagle Scout and high school student at Bergen Tech in Paramus, Massaro arrived on chance – he was driving to a church function at St. Catharine's when he heard a fire alarm blaring from a nearby home.
After calling 911 and identifying himself as an EMT (he's not affiliated with Glen Rock), Massaro ran into the house. He'd never been in a live fire and said his adrenaline was pumping.
"Right before I walked in I took a few breaths and said, 'I have to be professional, I have to stay calm,'" he told Patch.
Massaro, along with Barry and Anderson, attempted to use the fire extinguishers in the house. But the flames were too intense, and, he said, there was a malfunction with the devices.
Most would avoid running into a structure fire. Massaro, who credits being an Eagle Scout at Local Troop 15 to building up his confidence and leadership ability, saw the situation differently.
"My major thing is the training I received as an EMT is you never abandon a patient," he said. "There could have been a patient."
Fittingly, Massaro plans on pursuing a career as a nurse.
It may have only been two or three minutes since the start of the fire before Barry and Anderson were removed by emergency responders. Fortunately, no one was injured and there were no pets in the home.
As they watched their home of two decades burn to the ground, neighbors from all around came by with offers of help.
"It's overwhelming," Barry said, struggling to remember all those who have made offers in their time of need. The couple expressed gratitude to the volunteer firefighters from Glen Rock and departments all across the county.
Anderson thanked Massaro and the police for attending to his loved ones on a day that could very well have been their last.
Anderson noted a resident he'd never met consoled him and Barry the following morning. They received a "survival packet" of essential toiletries and coffee and doughnuts.
Such is the spirit of a community accustomed to rallying for its own.
"I'm happy to live here," Barry said. "I feel very fortunate."