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Niagara Falls honors those who helped out at boarding house fire

NIAGARA FALLS – Some good came out of the raging arson fire at the Zodiac Apartments on the evening of New Year’s Day that left five injured and 40 homeless.

Those who came to the aid of the men and woman who lost what little they had in the fire at the Niagara Street boarding house were honored by the City of Niagara Falls Thursday as part of National Red Cross Month in March.

Mayor Paul J. Dyster singled out Frenchy’s Pizza, which opened its doors that night to provide food and warm shelter for the residents of the building, and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and bus driver Deborah Moore, who waited for hours to provide free transportation to hotels for those who were left homeless by the fire.

Also honored were Red Cross volunteers Paul and Mercedes Catherine, of Niagara Falls, for their efforts to equip and educate residents of the city as members of the Red Cross Disaster Action Team. The couple has installed more than 300 free smoke detectors in homes in Niagara Falls over the past eight months.

Dyster noted that Red Cross volunteers serve their community selflessly and volunteer their time and education, bringing assistance and hope to those in need.

Chuck Marra, executive director of the Western New York Chapter of the American Red Cross, said the organization provides humanitarian relief, saves lives and “offers hope for a better tomorrow.”

“The Catherines epitomize the dedication and spirit,” Marra said. “They are working to keep Niagara Falls families safe from home fires by installing home alarms and helping families create escape plans.”

Frenchy’s Manager Paul Sepe said on the night of the fire people came into his business who had no warm clothing and no shoes.

“They had been standing outside, wrapped in blankets and a few asked if they could come inside to stay warm. I said absolutely and you can bring the rest of them in. I called my boss and he told me to stay as late as I want,” Sepe said.

NFTA Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel said the authority’s employees, like Moore, often provide more than just transportation in emergency situations.

Niagara Falls Fire Chief Thomas Colangelo said programs like the Red Cross initiative to provide smoke detectors “no doubt save lives.” He also praised the volunteers who regularly are on the scene helping out in emergency situations.

“We get situations, especially in cold weather, where people have nowhere to go, no family – they don’t have any of their clothes and they need someone to help them. Red Cross has always been there no matter what the situation. I don’t know what we would do without them,” Colangelo said.

Two men have been charged with deliberately setting the fire.