The hard rain had just ended as evening approached in Roselle Park. James Sevret, Jr., 18, and his girlfriend, Amanda Wichelns, 17, were sitting on the steps of his family’s home on Columbus Place waiting to walk his dogs when Amanda noticed smoke coming from next door at Viking Plumbing.
“I thought it was just steam, ’cause it just poured,” James remembered but he quickly realized it was something else, “That’s when you smelled it, right when we turned around.”
He quickly ran to Viking Plumbing and looked through the front door. In the back right corner he saw the flickering white light and flames. He grabbed Amanda’s phone and called 911. While on the phone, he ran back to his house and evacuated his family, then finished up with the emergency operator, and waited for the sound of approaching sirens. Seeing the fire begin to consume the facade of the building with smoke, James felt he needed to do something – anything – to help stop it.
Hopping the fence, he grabbed a hose attached to the back of the plumbing supply company and started spraying into the building, attacking the flames. Instinct took over and James did what he could, unaware that there were tanks and electrical dangers on the other side of the wall he was defending. In almost no time, the fire department arrived on scene and took over.
Patricia Sevret, James’ mother, was on the second floor when she heard someone from downstairs yell to get everyone out of the house because Viking Plumbing was on fire, “Are you kidding me?” she yelled back in disbelief.
Quickly walking downstairs she saw her son with a hose spraying the fire. Calling at him to get back to the house, Mrs. Sevret ran back up to get her two (2) grandchildren and the family pets – a Pit Bull, a Shepherd Boxer, a Maltese, and one cat – to run them out of the house. She did not have time to retrieve the family birds but they were unharmed.
In the 30 seconds it took from when she first saw her son at Viking Plumbing till she returned downstairs to evacuate her family, the hallway had filled with smoke. “You couldn’t even see. You couldn’t breathe. My eyes were burning.”
Pat’s grandson has asthma and she recalled her son, James, putting a sweatshirt over him to protect the boy’s lungs from smoke as they ran out of the house and up the block, away from the fire. Roselle Park’s EMT tended to the young boy since he had trouble breathing. He was released later at the scene to return home with his family.
For Pat Sevret, the fire held a deeper significance since the place where she lived before in Roselle Park caught fire. Pointing to the roof of a building on Westfield Avenue that could be seen from Columbus Place she recalled, “A week from tomorrow is the anniversary when that place burned down and I lost everything.”
It has affected her so much that, to this day, she stated that she cannot even stand the smell of campfires.
Still, with all that has happened with Viking and his family, when asked why he risked his safety to try and put out the fire, James’ answer was very simple and matter-of-fact, “I live next door. It was my first reaction to try and cool it down and spray the roof. Make sure it doesn’t get too bad.”
He was asked if he was thinking of being a fireman.
“Now? Yeah, maybe.”