The family homestead on Reservoir Avenue for Senior Deputy Chief Chris Bright had always been a welcome sight – a beacon of fond memories from the past.
Now, the burnt out house has recently been bulldozed – the site of a bittersweet effort from the long-time firefighter where he rescued one uncle, but another perished due to the flames. It was a rescue and overall effort that was highlighted on Monday in the campus of MIT where he collected the Medal of Valor for the state Firefighter of the Year awards.
It was a celebration of bravery and a mourning for a lost family member all at the same time.
Bright said the Medal around his neck was for his uncle, Dennis Toomey, who died in the Reservoir Avenue fire.
Everything changed for Bright last Feb. 6 when an early morning fire call came in while Bright was the shift commander. It was his family home on Reservoir Avenue, and it was on fire – a plume of smoke visibly rising into the icy morning sky. He knew his two elderly uncles were in the house, and he knew their routines and sensed they might be in danger.
Bright directed personnel to his Uncle Dennis’s first floor bedroom to search for the 85-year-old man. Meanwhile, he knew his other uncle, James, was likely in a basement bedroom. Flames were surging from the rear of the house near where the basement room was situated, and without any breathing apparatus, he pushed into the fire.
“Deputy Bright forced his way through the rear basement door where he faced extreme heat and smoke that had banked down to one-foot above floor level,” read an account from Monday’s ceremony. “Without wearing any self-contained breathing apparatus or benefit of protective hose lines, he made his way groping along the floor and found his uncle James still lying in his bed and dragged him out to the rear door.”
Bright, knowing his Uncle Dennis probably needed help as well, tried to dash back into the fire, but it was too heavy on the first floor.
“All attempts to rescue his other uncle were thwarted by the heavy fire conditions despite repeated attempts,” read the account. “Deputy Bright’s valiant efforts under extreme personal duress with complete disregard for his own personal safety under hazardous conditions, allowed him to save his Uncle James from untenable conditions.”
Gov. Charlie Baker placed the Medal of Valor around Bright’s neck Monday morning, and the crowd of family and more than 40 Revere firefighters erupted into applause as the popular deputy fought back tears.
Revere Fire Chief Gene Doherty said the Department was extremely proud of Bright, and also understood the personal loss he felt as a result of the award.
“There’s a lot of weird stuff that happens in a day when you are governor of Massachusetts,” said Gov. Baker during his remarks. “The weird stuff in the day of a firefighter can involve life and limb threatening situations. To a person, they dive into these situations without thinking twice about doing it. To them, it’s what they signed up for. We throw the word ‘hero’ around a lot…It cheapens it a little bit and that’s unfortunate because there really are heroes like this among us.”