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Keith Brown

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Anatomy of a Tragedy: Kitchen Accident Guts Home, Turns Teen into Hero

Posted: 06/06/2012 3:12 pm

It was a pretty good day.

Bonnie Glab's shift at the New Horizons in Autism group home where she works as a teacher and aide started at the usual time, 3:00 p.m. It was her first day back from vacation and a couple of hours later, all indications still pointed to a reasonably calm, uneventful shift. Things were going pretty well, Glab said.

And so, by 5:40 p.m., she was at a nearby convenience store when her cell phone rang. It was a neighbor -- a woman who lives across the street from the yellow bungalow Glab has called home for the last 22 years.

Things weren't going so well.

"She said: 'You need to come home right now, your house is on fire,''' Glab said.


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* * * * *

Jacqueline Garcia lives at 1914 Central Ave., in Wall Township, NJ, which is across the street from the Glab's home at 1913 Central Ave. Garcia remembers being in her kitchen with her husband, Luis, around 5:40 p.m. that Wednesday. It was near dinnertime and the two were putting together a meal when Jacqueline heard loud voices -- kids' voices -- coming from outside. The sound was unusual. It didn't sound like children playing.

She looked outside. Bonnie's teenage son, Brock, and his best friend, Patrick Daley, were in the driveway in front of the Glab's home, just sort of walking in circles, she said. That's when she saw it.

"You could see the smoke was just pluming out of the house,'' Garcia said.

Luis told Jacqueline to call 9-1-1 and dashed outside with a fire extinguisher. But the home was already engulfed.

Jacqueline went outside too, to talk with the boys. Brock, whose hands and face were badly burned, was in a lot of pain, Garcia said. Patrick had already called 9-1-1, but he said he could not get through to Bonnie, so Garcia made the call to Brock's mother.

"It's not an easy call to have to make to someone,'' Garcia said. "I have to say it was something that shook me to the core.''

* * * * *
Brock and Patrick, 15, have been friends since they met in a first grade classroom at West Belmar Elementary School. Now, both sophomores at Wall High School, the two are employed together at a local shoe store, where that Wednesday they had gotten off work around 5 p.m.

The pair planned on taking a bike ride after getting back to Glab's house, but some light rain changed their plans. They'd play some video games instead, Patrick said.

It was getting to be dinnertime. Brock was hungry, but he wasn't keen on the Chicken Cordon Blu his mother left for him. Tuesday's leftover chicken Fettuccine Alfredo sounded much better.

Brock got a frying pan, put the leftovers in, and lit the burner. Patrick laid back on the couch, listening to Blink 182 on his iPod, and shut his eyes.

It was about 5:30 p.m.

* * * * *

Brock is no stranger to the kitchen. He knows how to cook. He's done it a lot, Bonnie Glab says.

But this day, something went wrong, as it sometimes does in the kitchen. Maybe it was the olive oil, as Bonnie Glab believes. Or maybe the flame was too high. Maybe it was both or maybe it was something else entirely. No one can be exactly sure.

"He's a quite a good little cook,'' Bonnie Glab said. "But he didn't know that there was olive oil on the chicken. And he has this habit of turning up the stove high.''

What is certain is that chicken ignited. It was flaming and Brock needed to put it out quick. There was little time to spare, but the kitchen sink was blocked. Brock went to the bathtub with the flaming chicken, dumped it, and returned to the kitchen with the pan, Bonnie Glab said.

He returned to the bathroom and tried to pour water on the chicken to douse the flames. The oil in the chicken spattered. Flames caught the shower curtain.

Surprised, Brock took a step back, and covered his face with his hands. His movement pushed closed the bathroom door, the door notorious for sticking shut on the inside, as flames caught the bathroom towels.

His hands burned, he couldn't open the sticky bathroom door. The flames were getting stronger and he was trapped. He began to scream, begging for help. It was all he could do. And the flames were rising.

* * * * *
Patrick remembers it was the insistent beeping of the home's smoke alarm that jolted him back to reality. When he opened his eyes, there was smoke all through the house, seemingly coming from the hallway that led to the bathroom.

Once he removed his earbuds, he could hear his friend screaming from down the hall. Patrick went to help.

The bathroom doorknob wasn't hot from the outside, Patrick said. But there was smoke coming from under the door. When he opened it, there was an intense blast of heat that blew into the hallway.

"I couldn't see much, but I saw a lot of orange and there was a lot of heat,'' he said.

Brock quickly exited and told Patrick to call 9-1-1 while he went to get his two dogs. Patrick dialed as he was exiting the house. Brock arrived a minute later, with Buddy, a mixed breed, and Beege, a wirehair dachshund.

He was burned on his hands and face. He would later learn that he had second and third-degree burns on his hands, which shielded his face from more severe burns there.

He was in pain. But he was alive.

* * * *
The nearest fire company serving the neighborhood was the first called, followed quickly by two others. EMS crews, police descended. Utility workers arrived to shut off the natural gas lines.

It was 5:45 p.m.

Wall EMS was among the first to arrive and whisked Brock off to the nearest hospital, where his mother would meet him, thanks to the call from her neighbor.

Fire crews attacked the fire, cutting a vent hole in the roof and hosing the rest. Police blocked off the length of Central Avenue. A crowed gathered. Police tape kept onlookers at a safe distance.

It was all but over in about 15 minutes. By 6 p.m. the flames were extinguished, but the house smoldered. Everything inside was a loss.

"We lost everything,'' Bonnie Glab said. "Everything was destroyed. Pictures and things you can't replace. I had a set of depression glasses, a whole set, that my mother gave me. I'll never replace that.''

* * * * *

It's been weeks since the fire and the Glabs are adjusting to their new reality. They're staying with a relative, for now. Brock will be out of school for at least a month. He can't hold a pencil with his burned hands. He has tutors and completes his schoolwork orally, Glab says.

They travel to the burn unit at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston -- more than an hour away -- twice a week for Brock's treatments. The sophomore also does hourly exercises to keep the function in both hands. His prognosis is good, though. In time, he should have full function, and only minor scarring. He'll be in therapy for about 18 months, give or take, Glab says.

"He's doing good,'' she said. "I'm sure he thinks about it a lot, but he's doing really good.''

Brock is a member of the Wall High School NJROTC program, where Stanley Baxter, who runs the program, heaped praise on the young man, saying he's an outstanding student who helps his mother with the household responsibilities.

"He is loved and respected by members of our unit,'' Baxter said.

Patrick Daly, after the first few days following the blaze, is also doing well. It got better after he was able to see his friend, according to his mother, Amy Daley.

"He was shaken up for a couple of days, and most of all he was worried about how Brock was,'' Daley said. "It wasn't until after he saw Brock that he knew everything was going to be okay.''

Bonnie Glab and Daley credit Patrick with saving Brock's life.

"He may have just thought he was opening a door, but it was more than that,'' Bonnie Glab said. "But he literally saved (Brock's) life.''

Amy Daley said she wishes her son and his friend never had this experience, but she was glad her son was able to have the presence of mind to act in a confusing and stressful situation.

"Things happen and its nice to see that he rose to the occasion and was able to do the right thing,'' Daley said. "He heard his friend in trouble and he went to aide his friend. Thank goodness it was the right decision.''

Garcia said she is in awe of the Glab family and how they're handling their tragedy, taking it almost in stride in a way that inspires her.

"You can only admire someone who has that kind of outlook,'' Garcia said. "They didn't sit around and say 'Oh, poor us.' No. Bonnie says to me 'Well, we'll just start again.' I give her a lot of credit.''

A benefit to assist the Glab family is planned for June 10 at the Headliner nightclub in Neptune, NJ. For more information, see the event's Facebook page by clicking here.
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This story originally appeared on Wall Patch.

 

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