Calgary couple credits off-duty firefighter for saving son from burning home

A Calgary couple whose home was badly damaged in a fire on Friday is praising the actions of an off-duty firefighter for helping rescue their son.

It was supposed to be a relaxing weekend camping for Ken Alicea and his wife Annie Bermudez. Instead, they got a call from their 18-year-old son Friday afternoon saying the house was on fire.

“I would never want any family to go through this. It’s absolutely devastating,” Ken said.

Read more: 3 homes damaged by fire in Calgary’s Chapparal neighbourhood

The couple and their younger children piled into the car and drove to their home on Chaparral Terrace in southeast Calgary, desperate to see Tony Alicea.

“I don’t even remember if I put the car in park. I just jumped out and hugged him for what felt like forever,” said Annie, wiping tears from her eyes.

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“I didn’t even care about the house at that moment. I am just hugging my son.”

The fire started at the neighbour’s house and quickly spread to Annie and Ken’s place. Tony had been alone in the basement unaware of how bad things were outside.

“He told us that he was about to go take a shower, and if he would’ve done that, he would not have heard anything,” Ken said.

At first, Tony thought the smoke was just neighbours having a campfire.

“I was sitting there for a few minutes just breathing in smoke, and also the heat from it was insane, especially when there [were] flareups from the wind,” Tony said.

The 18-year-old scooped up their tiny dog Chico and ran out with just the clothes he had on.

Read more: Fire investigator probes cause of northwest Calgary house fire

An off-duty firefighter, who lives three blocks away, ran to the burning house and noticed there were lights on in the basement, so he pounded on the door telling Tony to get out.

“It was starting to get really foggy in the house, and I came upstairs halfway and there’s smoke everywhere and I hear banging on the door. There was somebody over there and he says, ‘Hey, you need to get out now,’” Tony said.

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“We realized our son wasn’t wearing any shoes and he had some marks on his arms and ashes all over him. It was really sad,” said Annie.

Annie and Ken are calling their neighbour a hero for saving their son and trying to salvage their house with the garden hose.

“For somebody to just have that bravery — our hoses are house hoses; they are not fire hoses. There’s no protection and he was just standing there trying to save our belongings,” Annie said.

They managed to track down and thank the off-duty firefighter on Monday. Ken said it was a very emotional moment.

“Everything that I buried down to hold in was bubbling out. You could hear the emotion in his voice as he spoke to us. One million thank yous. Words cannot express our gratitude,” Ken said

“He didn’t have to do what he did but he chose to run towards the fire.”

No one was injured in the fire that damaged three homes on Friday. The Alicea family still hasn’t been able to go back inside.

A firefighter got Olivia Alicea’s stuffie out of the house for her.
A firefighter got Olivia Alicea’s stuffie out of the house for her. Courtesy: the Alicea family

Instead, they are staying with Annie’s parents.

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The family is thankful for the actions of another Calgary firefighter who rummaged through the smoky, wet mess to salvage the favourite stuffie of their eight-year-old daughter, Olivia Alicea.

Read more: 1 man dead after blaze at Bridgeland home: Calgary Fire Department

Despite their losses, the family is overwhelmed by the bravery of strangers and the generosity of neighbours who have donated so much.

Ken said that someone anonymously left bags of essential goods and a $150 gift card for groceries for them.

“It’s good to know that compassion and neighbourly love still exist in Calgary. I am blown away by the kindness of our neighbours,” Ken said.

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