Steel Valley 'Angels' act to assure family's safety
Two Barrett Elementary teachers went far beyond their job description this week when they ran into a burning house in Homestead to check for occupants.
Just as their after-school math tutoring program was ending on Tuesday at approximately 3:30 p.m., Sue Wilder and Carole Policastro saw and smelled smoke as they were walking students out of the school at 221 E. Twelfth Ave.
“As we were exiting, the kids were saying, ‘Where's all the smoke coming from?'” Wilder said. “I thought that it may have been a car exhaust. I kept looking and there was no car. I looked up at the building and there was smoke coming out. I thought there's no way there's a furnace vent up there. I kept watching and I saw a flicker and then flames started to shoot out.”
She called 911 and ran across the street to the house at 204 E. Twelfth Ave. and pounded on the door. Wilder said no one answered, but she was able to open the door.
“The TV was on so I panicked,” she said. “I went through the downstairs and no one was there. I ran upstairs into the bedroom where the outside of the window was on fire. I could see the flames starting to come up over the windowsill. There was no one upstairs. I ran downstairs to the basement and the light was on. No one was there.”
Policastro, who was unaware that Wilder had entered the house, also went in to look through the rooms and in the cupboards.
“I think the thing that startled us most is the TV was on and the door was open,” Policastro said. “So at that point, somebody had to be in there.”
She said people on the street were yelling the names of the residents.
Wilder said one of the residents is a second-grader in Barrett teacher Jonette Bost's class, but she didn't know that at the time of the fire.
Bost was helping out during the after-school program and contacted the student's mother about the fire.
“Jonette really did take good care of the little boy,” Wilder said.
She said Bost comforted the student and his family when they returned to their home.
“She is probably one of the best nurturing teachers here,” Policastro said. “She is compassionate and supportive.”
She said Bost made sure the family had something to eat and gave them gift cards she had in her wallet.
“The little boy's biggest concern was that he wasn't going to have his homework for me this week because his book bag was in his room,” Bost said. “He worried that his chocolate bunny melted in the fire.”
Policastro said the teachers have been asked if they were worried about their own safety.
“We all felt safe going in,” she said. “We saw that it was contained.”
“It was at its beginning stages,” Wilder said.
“I'm really proud of our staff members and their heroic efforts to help a family in crisis and in need,” Barrett Elementary principal Sharon Fisher said.
Policastro joked that Wilder, Bost and she were “Barrett's Angels,” a reference to TV and movie heroines “Charlie's Angels.”
The fire is under investigation by the Allegheny County Fire Marshal's Office. The American Red Cross is assisting three adults and four children with food, shelter and clothing.
Stacy Lee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1970, or firstname.lastname@example.org.