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Pastor Michael Carrion and His Family Escaped Fire But Must Rebuild Lives

By Patrick Wall | July 18, 2013 10:12am
 The pastor, his wife and four children escaped a five-alarm blaze on July 17, 2013, which destroyed their home.
Rev. Michael Carrion and His Family
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PARKCHESTER — The Rev. Michael Carrion was fast asleep when his son barreled into his room early Wednesday morning.

“There’s a fire! There’s a fire!” Joshua Carrion, 21, shouted.

Inside, smoke detectors were shrieking. Outside, neighbors were screaming.

The house next door was aflame. The fire was spreading.

Carrion and his wife, Elizabeth, jolted out of bed and sprinted to each of their other three children’s rooms, yelling at them to come now.

It sounded more like a bomb than a fire — sharp bangs and pops — as the flames spread to the second floor of the Carrion house.

The family spilled out the front door, their two pit bulls in tow. Their two cats remained somewhere inside.

Just as the family reached the sidewalk, some force sucked up the air between the two houses — woooof — and a blazing, three-story tower of fire burst into the space, banishing the darkness.

The glass blasted out of the Carrions’ upstairs windows.

Then, the flames swallowed their house.

Fire engines began to arrive about 2:52 a.m. to the houses on Commonwealth Avenue, a few blocks north of the Cross-Bronx Expressway.

Some 200 firefighters would soon rush to the scene — four were later sent to the hospital with minor injuries. The firefighters union suggested later Wednesday that 911 dispatchers had delayed transmitting a call about the blaze to the Fire Department. The FDNY denied that.

Three families lived in the house next to the Carrions, neighbors said. Everyone escaped, though two young girls were sent to the hospital for smoke inhalation.

It took more than three hours to conquer the fire, at about 5:17 a.m.

All the while, the Carrions could only stand in the street and stare.

“My family, my wife, my children,” Carrion said, “we just watched our entire lives burn up in front of us.”

On Wednesday evening, Carrion, 42, who is the senior pastor of a Mott Haven church, returned to the home of the two married associate pastors where his family had retreated after the fire.

Carrion took a shower. He pulled on the borrowed long johns and socks of his associate pastor. He ate the food delivered by another member of his church family.

His headache wouldn’t let up. He thought about his flat-screen TV, now a pool of melted plastic.

His children — two sons and two daughters, ranging in age from 16 to 22 (another older son lives away from home) — all looked shell-shocked. They cried for the lost cats.

He realized that now, about 8 p.m., having finally returned from the Red Cross office, he had stopped weeping — the first time he had done so for more than a few minutes since about 3 a.m.

For all his shock, and sorrow, he also felt a pinch of joy. Ten minutes later that morning, and his family would not have escaped.

“I thank God for his mercies,” he said.

Carrion knows something about survival.

His parents were drug addicts who rotated in and out of prison, said the Rev. Ruben Austria, a long-time friend of Carrion’s, who related the pastor’s biography, which is well known in his church.

The young Carrion struggled with addiction too — until he entered a Christian recovery program for youth. Soon after, he became a minister.

For many years, Carrion did workforce development, training former prisoners and others how to find and keep jobs.

He and Austria would refer youth who sought spiritual solace to churches they knew.

But, invariably, the young people would return to say they felt uncomfortable at those churches, as if they wore the wrong clothes or spoke the wrong words.

So, about 2006, Carrion decided to open his own church, which became Promised Land Covenant Church on 137th Street and Cypress Avenue.

It catered to the ex-prisoners, drug addicts, gang members and others who had long pursued a place to belong, but until then had rarely found one.

“It wasn’t hard for him to have compassion for people like himself,” Austria said. “He really has a heart for the most marginalized members of the community.”

Carrion is also the founding chairman of a successful South Bronx charter school and a board member of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, Austria added.

Within hours of Wednesday's fire, phone calls, text messages and social media posts began to flood in to the Carrions from California, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida, Washington, Connecticut, even Guatemala, offering prayers and assistance.

An online fundraising page was soon set up for the family.

“Continue to be Tenacious,” one donor wrote.

“We love you, Pastor,” wrote another, “and are believing God for mighty miracles to rise out of this tragedy.”

By 8 a.m. Thursday morning, 96 people had donated $8,830. The goal is $20,000.

For now, Carrion owns nothing but the nightclothes and watch he wore to bed Tuesday night, and the glasses he grabbed as he ran from his room. He had no time for shoes.

He feels great pressure — he must soon find a place for his wife and children to live, a way for them to eat and bathe and be clothed.

“It’s not a position, as a dad and husband and provider, that you want to see yourself in,” he said.

But still, he added, he has faith.

“What was lost can be replaced," he said. "I’m appreciative for having what is irreplaceable."

“We can go from living in a house to living in a small apartment," he continued. "If I have my family, then I’ll be okay.”

To donate to the Carrions, visit this site.