Two young heroes save family from devastating fire

'God put him there on Walnut Street': Anthony Battiato and Kasandra Catlett take swift action upon spotting late-night flames

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  • Anthony Battiato and Kasandra Catlett in front of the devastated house on Elm Street (Photo by Phyllis Battiato)

  • The house engulfed in flames (Photo provided)

  • Bill Peterman says the family plans to start rebuilding right away (Photo provided)

“Without them driving by we might not have gotten out of the house, for sure. Ten more minutes would have made the difference.”
Bill Peterman

By Ginny Privitar

— It was the dead of night, 12:50 a.m., when Anthony Battiato and his girlfriend, Kasandra Catlett, both 16, first spotted the flames.

They were driving on Walnut Street in the Village of Chester on Saturday, June 3. The back of a house was on fire, they realized.

Battiato parked his truck. He and Kasandra cut through backyards as they raced to the front of the house, located on Elm Street, to rouse the occupants. At the same time, he called 911.

Anthony and Kasandra pounded on the door. “Wake up! Fire!” they yelled.

Jenn Peterman answered the door, still dazed from sleep.

"The lady came to the door and she was confused," Anthony said. "She just woke up. ‘What’s going on?’ she said in a scared voice."

Kasandra helped get Jenn two sons, Liam, 6, and Owen, 4, out of the house.

“It was really upsetting," Kasandra said. "I was scared but I knew I had to help them. When the house (went up) the little boy was clinging to me. My dad’s a firefighter, and he’s really happy I did that."

Anthony could see through a window that Jenn’s husband, Bill, was asleep in the basement. Anthony pounded on the window to wake him.

After “making quite a bit of noise, I saw him moving," said Anthony.

Bill Peterman got out and tried to extinguish the fire with a hose. Anthony said the deck was cracking. He told Peterson to get out, it was too dangerous.

Soon after the family was safely outside, the whole house went up in flames. It was a total loss of property. But the family was saved.

“We’re happy the family’s safe and sound,” Anthony said.

A lucky change in routineAfter he's done with his shift at The Castle Fun Center, Anthony usually takes Main Street and then Elm to head home. But after his shift on this particular night, he and Kasandra had dropped off a friend on Greycourt, so he was coming from a different direction. He turned down Vadala and made a right on Walnut.

He and Kasandra could see brightness through trees. Through a gap in a fence they saw flames racing up the deck and the whole back of the house.

"It was burning up to the roof and starting to burn the siding," Anthony said.

It was a lucky break. If Anthony had come home by his usual route, his grandmother Phyllis Battiato said, “He would have been in front and might not have notice. God put him there on Walnut Street. It was a miracle he was there at that time and had the presence of mind to do the right thing and save four people.”

Afterward, the family couldn’t move their cars because the keys were in house. The next day, the weather forecast called for rain. Anthony taped up plastic on the car's open window to keep the rain out.

“They had enough problems,” he said. “I didn’t want the inside of the truck to get wet.”

Anthony is the son of Village of Chester Trustee Chris Battiato and his wife, Liz, a schoolteacher in Monroe.

Village police were at the house at 11 Elm St. within minutes of Anthony’s 911 call and alerted the neighbors.

The fire department arrived just a few minutes after that. The back of the house was blazing.

All three Chester fire companies responded, as did Goshen, Washingtonville, and Monroe. Salisbury Mills and Greenwood Lake were on standby at two of Chester’s firehouses in case other calls came in.

In just a few more minutes, the entire house was consumed. The houses are close together on the street, and it was a windy night. The crisis could have been much worse but for the actions of the firefighters.

First Assistant Chief Patrick McKevitt of the Chester Fire Department said the cause was deemed to be a fire pit on the back deck that was used earlier in the evening. Bill Peterman believed he had put the fire out, but, it seems, embers had blown onto the deck.

“The heat of the deck burning potentially contributed to the way the fire spread," McKevitt said.

He said the back deck was made of Trex — a composite.

“It burns very hot very quick, and fire spread throughout the basement, first and second floors," he said. "There was a lot of fire in the house.”

McKevitt said people have to be careful with fire pits. They should not be near any flammable material. Embers can blow away and the bottoms can rust out. They should not be used on decks but instead on grass or a stone patio.

How to help the familyThe Petermans are very grateful to the two young heroes.

“Without them driving by we might not have gotten out of the house, for sure," Bill Peterman said. "Ten more minutes would have made the difference.”

Neighbor Jillian D’Onofrio has set up a Go Fund Me page for the family:

Nothing was saved from the fire. In time, the family will need everything, depending on their current living circumstances. Right now, the family is staying in a hotel and sorting through donated clothing. They don’t have the means to cook, so they are thankful for the restaurant gift cards they’ve received so far.

Bill Peterman said it may take 10 to 12 months.

“We plan on getting right back in and rebuilding," he said.

Speaking of his neighbors, he said, “Everyone’s been so great and we really miss them.”

The Village of Chester Police are collecting clothes and gift cards at the station at 45 Main Street.

Liz Battiato, Anthony’s mother, said, “We’re extremely proud of them both. It’s amazing that two 16-year-olds had the presence of mind to not only call 911, but jump into action and save four lives."

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