A family that suffered tragic loss in a fire on Inwood Road in Manorhaven at the same time experienced an outpouring of help and support from neighbors. Joanne Zimmer, one of the residents of the two-family home that burned, said, "This is such a caring neighborhood. All the neighbors have been so supportive: People really come together when things happen."
The heroic efforts of one of those neighbors, Peter Wright, most likely saved the lives of the Zimmers' parents, Nicholas and Mary Solomita, who occupied the other units in the building. He also rescued the Zimmers' big, loveable, dog, Jake.
Peter Wright said that he had just come home a little after 11 on Saturday evening (September 7) after dining out with his wife, Mary Lou, when he heard screams from outside. He rushed out and saw flames shooting four or five feet out of the back window of the house two doors down. He said that he knew that the Solomitas were home alone, so he rushed into the flames and found Mary Solomita trying to make her way out of the house. Meanwhile, Mary Lou called 911. After helping Mary to safety, he went back for Nick Solomita and found him confused, disoriented, and covered with soot from head to toe. After Nick was safely ensconced on the stoop of the house next door, Mary shouted, "the dog!" Peter said, "I knew that Joanne and Charles [Zimmer] would have been devastated to lose the dog." Peter is a dog trainer, training dogs for police departments around the country, as well as a fifth grade teacher and for many years owned a kennel with Mary Lou. He went back into the burning dwelling to find the keys to the Zimmers' unit, entered that dwelling, and persuaded Jake to come out. As if that were not enough, when he came out with the dog, Mary then called out, "the car, the car!" For a fourth time Peter went back through the flames and smoke to find the keys to the car parked in the driveway, and moved the car to safety.
Peter and some of the other neighbors tried to contain the fire using garden hoses. When the Port Washington Fire Department arrived, the firefighters instructed them to use the hoses to wet down the house next door while they concentrated on the burning building.
Said Maria Carpinelli, another Manorhaven resident who lives nearby, "It was such a wonderful community effort. Peter was a real hero." Joanne Zimmer said of Peter Wright, "If I could, I would give him the medal of honor." Peter said, "I just did what I had to do. I knew that they were in there and I had to get them out."
The Port Washington Fire Department, backed up by resources from Manhasset, worked from shortly after 11 p.m. until about 4 a.m. "They were terrific," said Peter Wright. "Everyone did such a good job, they should be commended." He added that one of the firefighters, after it was all over, asked Mary Solomita if there was anything she wanted from the house, and at her request, he went back into the building to get a box of her treasures.
Nicholas Salomita was taken to Nassau University Medical Center's Burn Center. At the time of this writing, he was still in critical condition. Mary Solomita was also hospitalized briefly. Peter Wright was (miraculously) uninjured, but said, "I could barely talk for three days." Jake is uninjured, but Joanne Zimmer said that he refused to eat for about three days.
The unit where the fire started (the Solomita's) is completely destroyed; the Zimmer's unit has extensive damage as well and is not habitable. The Zimmers are temporarily staying with friends. No adjoining buildings, however, suffered any damage. The cause of the fire is unknown. Chief Walter Trapp of the Port Washington Fire Department said that the fire is under investigation by the Nassau County Fire Marshall's Office. A number of observers, however, including the Zimmers and several firefighters, believe that it was an electrical fire, possibly caused by a faulty extension cord.
Neighbors have been coming by with food and offers of help for the affected family. During our interview, three trays arrived: lasagna, chicken, and eggplant parmigiana. Joanne Wright said, "The neighbors have been unbelievable. People I don't even know are asking, 'What can I do to help?'" Fran Jurkowski, who works for the Senior Citizen Center in Manorhaven, stopped by on her own time to check on the Sofio sisters, who live diagonally across the street from the fire and who are regulars at the Center. The Sofio sisters, in turn, are among those who have been cooking for the Zimmers. "That's how this neighborhood is," said Dorothy Sofio, "everybody watches out for everybody."