MARPLE – Startled by the screams of her sister-in-law Friday night, Cathy Grandizio ran into her home next door, only to find her bedridden brother-in-law, slipping away from life, trapped by the flames surrounding him.
Fred Grandizio, 69, died in his 707 St. Francis Drive home Friday night after valiant attempts by family and first responders. His wife, Mary Jean, was listed in critical condition early Saturday morning at Crozer-Chester Medical Center.
Marple Police Officer Pete Baylor was treated for smoke inhalation at the scene.
Cathy Grandizio lives next door with her husband, who is Fred’s brother.
Cathy Grandizio explained that Fred had cancer and was on hospice with his wife, Mary Jean, caring for him.
Neighbors say the single-level home at 707 St. Francis Drive had been in the Grandizio family and after the parents passed, one of the four children, Anna, took care of it.
Cathy Grandizio said Fred came from New York to care for his sister Anna, who died last year. Then, he got a diagnosis of cancer and his wife came to care for him in the same home.
With Cathy living there for 21 years, she got to know Fred and Mary Jean well.
“She came over the back door, at first I couldn’t understand,” Grandizio said of Friday night. “She was screaming. The first thing I thought was, ‘Oh, did she burn something in the kitchen?’ And I said, ‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong? What’s wrong?’
“Then she said, ‘Freddie!” Grandizio continued. “Then, I went, ‘Oh my God, Oh my God.’”
The two immediately bolted into the burning house.
“We ran in, ran down the hall, it started getting smoky,” Grandizio said. “The bed was completely covered with flames. All’s I heard was his voice say, ‘Cath…’
“I tried to go in but it was too much,” she said. “And, I said, ‘Called 911, Freddie’ and I did, I called 911.
She paused, then quietly said, “I just wish I could’ve done more.”
Next door, Beth Sullivan was on her front patio after finishing work.
“We were out here smoking and we heard weird noises from the back,” she said. “I said to my husband, ‘It sounds like a velociraptor or something like that.’ We thought it was kids.”
Then, she said she saw Fred Grandizio’s brother.
“We saw Carmen, his brother, come running on the side of the house, screaming. “I went inside to turn the light on … and I saw flames so I called 911.”
She said first responders showed up within minutes.
“They ran in, no nothing, went in and pulled her out,” Sullivan said. “One of the cops came out coughing out smoke. I’m worried about him.”
Marple Police Chief Brandon Graeff said Officer Pete Baylor is doing fine.
He said as Sullivan called 911, Mary Jean Grandizio went back into the home to try to get her husband out. That’s when Baylor and Springfield Township firefighter James Jardine, who had been in the neighborhood visiting family and friends, arrived separately.
“They both went into the house after the husband and wife,” Graeff said. “They found her quickly … They got into the house and found her and took her out.”
Sullivan said others saw the wife’s anguish.
“I think she was trying to get him out even though he was gone and they went and grabbed her and she was screaming, ‘I’m not leaving the house without my husband’,” she said.
After making sure she was safe, Baylor and Jardine ran into the inferno again, trying one more time.
“They went back into the house,” Graeff said, “But … the heat was too intense and the smoke was awful and they had to retreat, unfortunately.”
The police chief said the fire started in the bedroom although the cause is not yet known, It is being investigated by the Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal and Delaware County’s Criminal Investigative Division.
He said the 911 call was received about 8:55 p.m. and the fire was still involved about an hour later. Multiple fire companies, including Broomall, Springfield, Manoa and Newtown Square responded to the incident to put it under control and extinguish it.
“Our guys did a great job keeping calm, letting the fire companies know what was going on,” Graeff said, adding that the oxygen tanks the resident had in the home for his care caused the situation to escalate. “It was pretty intense.”
Sullivan agreed with that description.
Shortly after Baylor and arrived, the neighbor said fire companies appeared on the scene.
“It was then that the windows exploded,” Sullivan said. “There was oxygen in the house, he was bed-ridden.”
The neighbor praised the first responders.
“Seven fire trucks were on the street,” she said. “I think the whole Marple police force was out. The ambulances couldn’t even come down the street, they were up top.”
On Saturday, Sullivan had only begun to grapple with the loss of her neighbor.
“I’m still in shock,” she said. “It’s pretty devastating.”
The Marple police chief said first responders are trained to respond to events like this, even though they don’t happen often.
“We expect things like this, it doesn’t make it easier,” Graeff said. “What I took extra pride on, as should our community, … (was) when you see police officers and firefighters respond without hesitation.”