Written by: Joe Fiduccia
Last Thanksgiving, my mom hosted her annual pre-holiday ballroom dance party. It’s been a yearly tradition at her house for several years, yielding up to 80 people at times.
And this year’s event was no different.
The party started off as it always does. Guests arrived just as the appetizers were being placed on the table. The bar was open for business, and the DJ began his wave of dance ballroom dance tracks. The dance floor starting getting lots of love, people were laughing in conversation uncontrollably, and tapas were served by the incredible wait staff of All Service Concierge.
One of our guests of honor was a close friend: the Amazing Kreskin. Several hours into the party, he decided to put on a small performance for everyone. But the only way to make it work was to send everyone to the large basement.
So the entire party migrated downstairs to enjoy his performance. It lasted about 20 minutes, afterwhich I immediately headed back upstairs.
About 3/4’s of the way up I noticed something wasn’t right. Something was burning. As I reached the top of the stairs, I could see smoke billowing through the rear porch. Was our house on fire!?
At the back of the house was an outdoor deck that we had covered with a large party tent. We used it to served the hot food in. As I stood at the top of the basement stairs and peered through the windows onto the deck, my heart stopped.
Flames were taking over the tent.
At that moment my survival instincts kicked into high gear. I immediately ran into the porch and realized the fire was worse than it first seemed. Not only was the tablecloth on fire, but a large portion of the tent wall had caught fire as well.
But I refused to panic, and just remained calm while figuring out a way to put out the flames before everyone made their way upstairs from the basement.
Fortunately it was a slow-burning fire and didn’t grow very quickly. After receiving some scalding burns on my hand and arm, I was able to put it out…just as the guests got back onto the dance floor.
While some people noticed the smell and realized what had happened, most did not. The majority figured it was something burning in the oven.
So they continued to enjoy the party while I cleaned up the aftermath and dealt with the throbbing pain from my burns. In the end I saved not only the entire home from burning down, but countless lives from being lost while stuck in an enclosed basement with only one way out.
Those who witnessed the incident started telling me I was the hero of the evening. But I quickly realized that this ‘hero status’ is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Mentally this experience has taken a major toll on me. “Why,” you ask? Because that was MY station.
For one, I was the one in charge of setting up and monitoring the tent. For over 6 hours leading up to and during the party, I was the one keeping an eye on the food and keeping the sterno flames lit. Yet in the measly 20 minutes the entire party was downstairs for the performance, a major catastrophe was about to unfold.
And it was all my fault.
Yes – I am eternally grateful for the safe outcome. I know it could have been much worse. If the performance lasted just five more minutes, my mom’s house may have burned down…taking everything she had worked so hard to achieve in life. Or worse, dozens of people could have died, including my own family.
But I still can’t get over the mental anguish that has followed. I keep picturing what could have happened. I am having a tough time coping with the endless scenarios that would have ruined countless lives. Years later, there are times I can’t sleep at night, simply knowing I could have been responsible for the last party these people might ever have.
Everyone went to bed that night feeling great, except me. And I am still struggling to catch up.
Yet I give thanks to my angels every day, and have now come to understand why some people just don’t want to be labeled a hero.