You can usually find Paul Antonino at lunchtime eating at one of his favorite spots in East Boston. Five out of seven days a week Antonino is inside Oliveira’s on Chelsea Street enjoying some Brazilian BBQ.
Luckily, two Sundays ago he didn’t deviate from his usual routine.
“I took my daughter over there for lunch and when we came out I smelled smoke,” said the former North End resident who now lives in Wakefield and owns property in Eastie. “I saw some smoke coming from the top of the building across the street from Oliveira’s so after I got into my car I circled around the block.”
Antonino, 53, knew something was wrong when he pulled up in front of the building at 330 Chelsea St. and saw that the smoke had become heavier and stronger.
With no time to think of his own safety, Antonino ran into the building and began knocking on doors. When no one answered at two of the apartments Antonino kicked the doors in only to find two elderly residents unaware of the inferno that was beginning to rage above them. No one was home on the third floor.
For helping to usher Eastie resident to safety during the 7-alarm blaze that would eventually gut two buildings on Chelsea Street and take over six hours to fight, Antonino was honored last Wednesday at Boston City Hall by Mayor Thomas Menino, City Councilor Sal LaMattina and Fire Commissioner Rodrick Fraser.
“Paul (Antonino) on Sunday went into those buildings without any hesitation at all,” said Menino at the City Hall ceremony. “This is just a proclamation, but I know the people of East Boston on that street, in particular, think this guy is a real living hero for what he did that day.”
Menino declared Wednesday, April 4 Paul Antonino Day and presented the neighborhood hero with a proclamation and official Boston Red Sox cap.
“I grew up in the North End, and I seen this before,” said Antonino at the ceremony. “When there was a fire in the middle of the night and people had to do this, half of them never got any recognition for it. It was just the way it was. Being a city guy, even though I have a Wakefield address, that’s just what you do.”
The BFD is still investigating the cause of the blaze that started in the third floor of 330 Chelsea St. and quickly spread to the floors below. Several hours into the fire the inferno breached the firewall between 330 and 328 Chelsea St. and spread to the adjoining three family. The blaze caused the partial collapse of 330 Chelsea St. and gutted 328 Chelsea St.
The fire caused over $2.5 million in damage and left 30 people homeless. A fund has been set up by the East Boston Savings Bank. Anyone who would like to make a contribution to the fund, donations can be dropped off at any EBSB branch office during business hours. Donations can also be mailed to The Families of the Chelsea Street Fire Fund, c/o East Boston Savings Bank, 10 Meridian Street, East Boston, MA 02128. All checks should be made payable to The Families of the Chelsea Street Fire.