I found out last night that the man who died because of injuries sustained in the fire, my next door neighbour Gregory Alan Fenton, was discovered in my apartment – unit 303. I am in shock. I now understand why the police were so eager to speak with us first.
I am told that Greg lived in the building for almost 20 years. No one I have spoken to remembers interacting with him, and I had never met the man. I had never even seen the man. The police believe that he must have seen me, though, and known that I have small children and was often alone overnight. They suspect that he was making sure that I had got the children out, and was overcome by the smoke. He died in the hospital on Friday December the 4th and was laid to rest this Saturday. He was 54.
I left the apartment 20 to 30 seconds after the first alarm sounded. The hallway was already so thick with smoke I mistakenly believed that the power had been cut. Mr. Fenton walked through this, towards the fire to reach my unit. We were directly beside the stairwell which was where the fire was set, gas trailed up and down each of the 4 flights of stairs while so many in the building still slept. I was awake when the alarm went off, but it was so quiet. Too quiet. We learned later that there was no alarm on our floor, and no fire extinguishers. Our fire door was also broken, unable to close.
Sunday at 7:30am I had already been up for hours with morning sickness. I was miserable at the time, but now I consider myself extremely lucky. There was most likely a minute between when we left and when Mr Fenton entered our suite. I am certain that if I had been sleeping we would have died with our would be saviour. It hurts to think of him lying in our home, alone. I feel so guilty and humbled. Whatever reason he was there, I wish it was not the first time. I wish I had introduced myself when I moved in. I wish I had been a neighbour to him, or maybe a friend. I am so incredibly sorry.
We left so quickly no one was wearing shoes. We had no wallets, phones, ID, or money. My laptop sat in the middle of my bed, forgotten. Standing on the sidewalk barefoot, holding my daughter and watching my building burn, I had only two things to my name – the only two things that matter. Mr. Fenton knew that. I have his picture, and when my children are older I will tell them about their quiet neighbour and how he watched out for them.
It is the very least that I can do.