Some 20 years ago, Dennis Fulton-Sears had just finished work as a bartender on Walden Avenue early on a Sunday morning, and was driving home when he heard a elderly woman screaming for help from a second-floor apartment nearby.
He coaxed her to slide down an awning, promising that he would catch her. “I put her in my car, and called 911 on my cell phone,” he recalled.
History repeated itself for Fulton-Sears this weekend. At 3:10 a.m. Sunday, he heard a smoke alarm go off in his 2.5-story Wilson farmhouse, and raced upstairs to save another elderly woman.
But this time, it was his own mother.
“She said, ‘Give me a minute.’ I said, ‘No, Mom, we don’t have a minute.’ I told her, ‘Hold your breath.’ I held my breath and the smoke was so thick, I had to feel my way down the steps while I dragged my mother,” Fulton-Sears said hours after the fire, noting that she normally gets around with a cane. “I was so afraid she wouldn’t hold her breath. If we hadn’t held our breath, we both wouldn’t have been here,”
Authorities say the farmhouse, which was built in 1911, was totally destroyed. An electrical outlet outside connected to an electric fence is believed to have sparked the blaze, authorities said.
And while Fulton-Sears, 61, and his wife, Cheryl, 67, are grateful that 86-year-old mother, Marjorie Sears, survived, they are heartbroken at losing Sunny, their 4-year-old golden retriever.
“We just buried our German shepherd, Sita, last week. I can’t believe we don’t have a dog,” said Cheryl Fulton-Sears, sobbing as she mourned.
One of their two cats, 18-year-old Margie, named after Dennis’ mother, was able to escape, but a second cat, Buttercup, about 5 years old, also perished.
The couple are well-known in the Niagara County community, where Dennis is an artist and sculptor, and they run the Elizabeth Worley Memorial Art and Peace Center. The center is located in a free-standing pre-fabricated building on the 10-acre property but about 80 feet away from the house, so it was not damaged.
The farm also has two barns built in the 1860s, and two horses.
More than a dozen neighbors stopped by throughout the morning to offer their assistance to the family at the remains of their home at 3608 Wilson-Cambria Road, including George Banagis, who helped dig the backyard grave for Sunny.
The community will be there to support the family, said Jim Muscoreil, one of Dennis’ closest friends and a fellow member of the Wilson Lions Club.
“Dennis is definitely a hero. He’s always been a hero, and I’m so grateful he was able to get his mother out, and she’s OK,” said Muscoreil, also a member of the Wilson Town Board. “Our village and town, and the Lions Clubs of Western New York, are going to be out there in force. We will take care of them.”
Officials have not estimated the amount of damage, but the roof caved in, the vinyl siding melted and the house was reduced to just the frame in the back.
The couple said that their house was fully insured, and it is their hope to rebuild.
South Wilson Fire Co. No. 1 responded to the blaze.