Even though the house of Barbara Carlow had already burned, and Warwick firefighters had completed their job of extinguishing the fire, they insisted to take the time to help her pick up the remaining pieces of her life.
In the early morning hours of May 6, the home of Barbara Carlow on 173 George Arden Avenue in the Greenwood area of Warwick burned down. Barbara was able to escape, along with her son Randy, but except for a few items, everything was lost to fire.
“The fire was on a Saturday night,” said Robert Carlow, also Barbara’s son. “The smoke detectors went off, my brother [Randy] went upstairs and saw a small fire. He tried to put it out but he couldn't. Then he went to get my mother, the smoke got heavy, and when he went downstairs he lost her and had to go back to find her. Across the street the neighbors took her in. The fire department came. The house has to be torn down. She lost about 95 percent of her belongings.”
Robert is a firefighter in Coventry, following in the footsteps of his father, Everett Carlow, who was a fire captain in Warwick serving for 35 years. Robert’s son, Robert Carlow Jr., has his own plans to join the Hope Jackson Fire Company in Scituate after completing a tour with the Marines.
It’s a fire fighting family, through and through.
“It’s just kind of ironic,” said Robert. “You’re always checking the house for safety issues.”
A plaque commemorating Everett’s retirement was one of the few special objects that made it out that night. Even so, it’s covered with soot and partly burned.
The fire was so hot that officials aren’t exactly sure what caused it, but they believe it may have started from a faulty power strip.
The paint on the adjourning house was melted, and some of the firefighters who entered the night of the blaze had their equipment damaged by heat.
But happiness can be found even in the darkest of times.
In the days and weeks after the conflagration, groups of firefighters came to the house to go through the debris and salvage what they could. One of those groups was led by Mike Carreiro, president of the Warwick firefighters union.
“Later Mike Carreiro came over with about a dozen guys to help clean up, go through the house [to see] what couldn’t be salvaged,” said Robert. “Some of the guys were teary eyed, seeing us, a firefighter family, go through that.”
Firefighter Ken Marriott, Captain Mike Scalzo, Firefighter Michael Boynton, Sr., Firefighter Chris Zaino and Firefighter Matt Jarbeau, among others, came to help.
“Bob reached out to me and was asking for some help,” said Carreiro. “It’s a great cause. We always want to help each other out as much as we can.”
They came out filthy, covered in dust and soot, but at least they had helped pick up the pieces, literally and figuratively, of Barbara and the entire Carlow family.
“Firefighting at the beginning was quite a social organization,” said Robert. “They didn’t have computers like we do now, so people used to hang out at the fire station. They’d have events, it was like a different family.”
The firefighters were able to find Barbara's wedding ring after weeks of using metal detectors and sifting through the ashes
“We were not stopping until we found that ring, it had to be found,” said Robert. “It was picking up nails, picking up everything, eventually we had to sift the room. Everything was all black.”
Even though it’s a shell of what it once was, the house on George Arden Avenue has been used for training by the firefighters. They’ve practiced making holes in the roof, to release toxic and hot gas.
The house is set for demolition soon, but even that’s been difficult. Due to city and state regulations a dozen different entities, from Dig Safe to the Water Department, has to sign off on the demolition. Barbara's insurance was good, so they’re going to build a new house on the foundations of the old, but for now she’s living in a rental on Atkins Street, near the site of her old house.
“The only time she shed a tear was when you asked her what happened during the fire,” said Robert. “Otherwise she’s been a rock the whole time.”
In the end, it was thanks to her family that Barbara was able to escape the fire. And it was thanks to the support of a second type of family that a resilient symbol of love was retrieved from the ashes of tragedy.