Stamford Fire Chief Attends, Speaks About The Tough Call He Had To Make

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) —  Madonna Badger, who lost her three daughters and both parents in the Christmas morning fire in Stamford, Conn., attended Wednesday’s wake, along with the girls’ father and the only other survivor of the tragedy, Badger’s contractor.

“It’s one of the worst funerals I’ve handled and I’ve done thousands,” said funeral director Dominic Carella.

Carella has been helping the families cope with the tragedy’s tremendous scope and said while Badger was holding up after having lost the generation above her and the one below, she has her moments.

1010 WINS’ Gary Baumgarten reports

“She doesn’t talk so much about the tragedy. It’s more focused on how can we reflect on the children and I think that’s helping her,”  he said.

Ten-year-old Lily Badger and 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah Badger were lying in repose in matching mahogany caskets surrounded by pink and white flowers at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home on Madison Avenue. In the adjoining parlor lay grandparents Pauline and Lomer Johnson, in matching cherry wood caskets, reports CBS 2’s Tony Aiello.

All five were killed on Dec. 25 in a fire that was reportedly sparked by fireplace embers improperly-placed in a mudroom.

Stamford Fire Family

Lomer and Pauline Johnson, Lily Badger and twins Grace and Sarah Badger (credit: CBS 2).

The victims died of smoke inhalation. Lomer Johnson also suffered blunt trauma to the neck and head, which likely resulted from a fall or being hit by an object as he tried to rescue his granddaughters from the flames.

The only survivors were the girls’ mother and her contractor boyfriend Michael Borcina, who was working on renovations to the house. He arrived at the wake a little after 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Badger spent three days in a White Plains psychiatric facility after the fire and has been in seclusion since. Her brother made most of the wake and funeral arrangements.

About a dozen Stamford firefighters attended the wake at the invitation of the Badger and Johnson families.

Deputy Fire Chief Bill Smith, whose department responded to the deadly blaze, and who made the call to end the rescue attempt, told CBS 2’s Lou Young he still remains haunted by the tragedy.

“We like to think we’re miracle workers and we do perform miracles sometimes… For the guys to be pulled out when they were still hoping, it’s tough for them. That’s a call I have to make. If you go to a military term it’s a retreat,” Smith said.

“I replayed it in my head many times. I talked to you that Monday and I couldn’t come down for an interview. You always say to yourself what could I have done differently? What could I have done to change what was really a foregone outcome?” Smith added.

Smith, 60, asked to attend the wake out of a sense of duty for himself and his department. It was the first time he saw Madonna Badger since Christmas morning.

“To have the mother hanging on me at the very beginning of the operation very obviously distraught  — begging me to save her children and I didn’t do it. I couldn’t do it but we tried,” Smith said.

Chief Smith sent 15 firefighters into the burning building, while another 55 covered their advance. They tried for a full half hour before he knew he had to pull them out.

“They were going to get trapped on a stairway because the fire was moving so fast,” Smith said. “For the guys to be pulled out when they were still hoping, it’s tough for them, too.

“[Madonna Badger] was climbing the scaffolding to go back into the building. When you think about a desperate attempt to try and save your family, you know heroics on her part. We ended up saving her life by not letting her do that and the man wanted to go back in and we prevented him from going back in,” Smith added.

A video monitor was to play a film celebrating the lives of the five victims. Their caskets were closed, but there were pictures of each of the deceased nearby.

A public funeral service for the girls will be held at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Manhattan. Following the funeral, there will be a private committal at Woodlawn Cemetery. Grace, Sarah and Lily will be buried there.

Stamford police have stepped up their role in the investigation into the deadly blaze. Experienced detectives are working to get to the bottom of the sequence of events that took the five lives.

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