By Stan Friedman
BRONX, NY (July 18, 2013) –Michael Carrion is out looking for a suit and pastor’s collar. Despite losing everything he owns to a fire that destroyed his New York home yesterday, he still intends to perform a wedding service on Friday.
The couple didn’t expect him to continue with their wedding. But Carrion, pastor of Promised Land Covenant Church in the Bronx, was insistent. “They’ve already released me from it, but I have to be there for them,” he said.
The Carrion family barely escaped the blaze that broke out shortly before 3 a.m. Wednesday. His son, Joshua, ran into his parents’ bedroom screaming, “There’s a fire!”
“Had my 21-year-old son not been up, we would not be having this conversation,” Carrion said. “My whole family would be dead.”
Carrion and his wife, Elizabeth, got their other three children, ages 16 to 22, out of the home.
It was a fire next door that Joshua had seen. Seconds after the Carrions escaped, “a wall of flames” erupted between the two buildings.
“It was a giant woof,” Carrion said. “It was an explosion.” (A neighbor snapped a photo of that moment.) The flames quickly engulfed the entire structure.
The stunned family stood outside while more than 250 firefighters responded to the five-alarm blaze. “We watched wave after wave of firefighters go into the home,” Carrion said.
The flames also scorched the house on the other side of the Carrions’ residence. Altogether, 10 adults and 15 children were displaced from the multi-family residences.
Two children were treated for smoke inhalation at a local hospital and released. Eleven firefighters suffered mostly minor injuries, officials said.
The Carrions are staying at the home of a couple who are associate pastors at the church. Carrion said he and Elizabeth were lying in bed Wednesday night “when it hit us that we were looking up at the ceiling and saying that is not our ceiling, and this is not our bed, and everything we had is gone.”
Carrion, a onetime gang member, added, “I grew up in a tough, confrontational context, but this is a first for me. I still can’t believe this is happening.”
He emphasized that despite the heartbreaking losses of property, “The most important thing is we all made it out alive. We still have our family.”
The Bronx pastor also said he is grateful for the way Covenanters and others have been supporting his family since just hours after the fire broke out. “I am moved and touched by the outreach of the Covenant Church,” Carrion said.
Several churches have partnered with local congregations through Merge Ministries to do mission work in the city. By 9:30 a.m. four people had contacted Merge to let them know of the fire, Jenifer DeCastro, the Merge USA coordinator, wrote in an email.
“Every church that has been on a Merge USA trip to New York this year sent in donations and many of the individuals have given as well,” Castro said.
“We’re depending on God’s mercy and all that people have done for us,” Carrion said.
A fund has been set up to assist the Carrion family. Donations also may be sent to 1776 Cross Bronx Expressway, Bronx, NY 10472.
Adding to the tragedy, the fire has led to a dispute between the city and the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which claims the Carrions’ home could have been saved but 911 dispatchers failed to alert the fire department for 12 minutes.
“We have a dangerous job and we won’t accept that. We should not pull up to buildings that are roaring because somebody decided not to tell us in time,” said Steve Cassidy, the union’s president.
Mayor Mike Bloomberg responded at a news conference, “Steve Cassidy, I know him very well. He should be ashamed of himself for trying to create something he knows isn’t true.”
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.