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    Apr 2002

    Thumbs up Woman reunited with man who saved her siblings from fire 61 years ago

    Woman reunited with man who saved her siblings from fire 61 years ago


    Staff writer

    PEABODY -- As a young woman, Eugenia Lomas kept a list in her mind of things she wanted to do before she died. She wanted to see Niagara Falls. She wanted to kneel on every step of a certain religious shrine. And all her life she wanted to find the stranger who rescued her little brother and sister from the flames when her family's home burned down.

    By the time she was 73, Lomas no longer kept such a list. Then one night late this summer, she and her fiance sat down to dinner with two strangers in the dining room at Brooksby Village, where she has an apartment. It is customary in the retirement complex for people to be seated with strangers.

    "As usual, you get to talking about where you're from, what school you went to, blah, blah, blah," Lomas said.

    The man, whose name she had just learned was Bill Quinn, happened to be living in the same part of Revere as Lomas just before World War II. Lomas asked if he remembered the story of the terrible house fire on Valentine's Day, 1941, that killed a mother and two children.

    Long-forgotten memories flooded the 80-year-old man's mind. He had been 19 years old, awakened around 1 a.m. by the sound of an explosion. "I heard this unearthly screaming," Quinn said.

    He pulled on pants and slippers and ran out into the street, which was lined with snow banks. He saw black smoke pouring out of a neighbor's house, and in a split second realized he could help. He ran into the burning building, not knowing the layout or exactly what he was seeking.

    Three children saved

    "As I went in, a little youngster ran into my legs," Quinn said. He picked up the 1-year-old boy and carried him out to the porch. He saw other adults gathering children into a carfor safety, and handed the boy to them. There he learned there were more children inside the burning building, so he ran back in.

    He found a 10-year-old girl and helped her out.

    While standing outside, it occurred to him that more children were probably upstairs. He ran into the burning building a third time. "I went in as far as I could," he said. "I yelled, but there was no response."

    It wasn't until that moment that Quinn realized how much danger he was in. Smoke got in his lungs and it felt like he was choking. He fumbled around the floor until he found a wall, then followed the floor boards until he was outside again.

    On his way out he stumbled upon and rescued Helen Baker, the 9-year-old daughter of the other family living in the house.

    "That was about all I did," Quinn said.

    In the dining room at Brooksby Village, as Quinn recounted the story, it dawned on Eugenia Lomas that here was the man who, 61 years ago, had saved her brother, Joseph, and her sister, Mary.

    After a moment of shock, they hugged and cried.

    "It was just unbelievable," Lomas said.

    Family torn apart

    She was 12 years old when her family's house burned. She had been spending the night with her grandmother, so she was not home when the fire broke out.

    "I did go to the fire afterwards to see it," Lomas said. "I remember being so angry I was kicking things around."

    Her 35-year-old mother, Eleanor Perrier, died days after the fire of first-degree burns. She would have survived if she hadn't returned to the burning house trying to rescue her children.

    Two of Lomas' seven siblings, 2-year-old Alice and 6-year-old Annette, died in the fire that day. Her mother had carried Alice to safety, but the child followed her back into the burning building and was trapped in the flames. Newspaper reports said Eleanor had to be carried from the fire and placed forcibly in the ambulance.

    Lomas was too distraught afterward to wonder about the stranger who had raced repeatedly into the burning building. Her siblings were split up and sent to the homes of relatives.

    "We never were a complete family again after that," said Lomas, who went to live with her grandmother.

    "My sorrow overcame trying to find out what happened until years later."

    It wasn't until she was 18 that Lomas started craving more details about the fire that had torn her family apart. That's when the idea took root in her mind that someday before she died, she would find that courageous stranger and thank him.

    Almost forgotten

    Quinn, for his part, never felt particularly courageous about what he did that day. As morning broke and firefighters finished putting out the fire, Quinn wandered home. He had just gotten a job as a messenger at General Electric in Lynn, and he figured he'd better go to work. He cleaned off the soot and put in a regular day on the job.

    "After the fire there was a week or so of publicity," Quinn said. "Then it was completely out of my mind. I never thought of it."

    Soon after, he went overseas to fight in World War II, where he saw horrors and acts of courage that overshadowed his memory of the burning house in Revere. When he returned from the war in 1945, he moved to Lynn and forgot about that part of his past.

    But after meeting Lomas at dinner, Quinn went to the library and found old newspaper articles about the fire to help his new friend fill gaps in her memory of the incident. He thought it would give her some closure.

    They went to dinner together and visited one another's homes. They have grown close, despite the fact that Quinn still lives in Lynn. But his friends are pressuring him to move to Brooksby Village.

    Lomas said it is almost eerie that she should meet this man by chance, and in her comic moments wonders if having one of her dying wishes fulfilled is a sign the end is near.

    "I was so happy to meet Bill," she said, looking at him with tears in her eyes. He squeezes her arm.

    "It was one of my desires to meet this man," Lomas said. "How many times in your life can something like that happen?"

  2. #2
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    PFire23's Avatar
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    Nov 2001
    On a rock, surrounded by water

    Default It's a small world afterall

    What a touching story. It's nice that she was able to meet the man who saved her siblings so many years ago.
    To the world you might be one person, but to one person you just might be the world.

    IACOJ-WOT proud

    GO WHITE SOX!!!!!

  3. #3
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    RspctFrmCalgary's Avatar
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    May 2002
    Now in Victoria, BC. I'm from beautiful Jasper Alberta in the heart of the Can. Rockies - will always be an Albertan at heart!


    Wow! It is a small world! That's truly an amazing story
    September 11th - Never Forget

    I respect firefighters and emergency workers worldwide. Thank you for what you do.

    Honorary Flatlander


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