Georgette Fogarty-Clemons was heading home from her wedding Sunday evening, looking forward to relaxing with a few friends. Her friend was driving slowly because they had some leftover cake in the car, along with hydrangeas and lilies still in water.
That’s when Fogarty-Clemons spotted smoke from the side of her neighbor’s house in Bridgeport and told her friend to back up and stop.
Still in her wedding gown and high heels, Fogarty-Clemons jumped out of the car.
“I stepped right into a pile of mud,” Fogarty-Clemons said. “I just thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, my shoes.'”
“Where are you going?” asked her friend, Hanifah Bost, thinking the smoke was from a barbecue. Guests following them were equally perplexed.
“That’s fire,” Fogarty-Clemons said. “Come on; we have to tell them.”
Fogarty-Clemons made it to the house and pounded on the door, alerting the residents to the fire. A woman and her 16-year-old son and their pets were able to escape unharmed.
“We have no way of knowing what would have happened had she not come to the door,” said Susan Schneiderman, who owns the house that caught fire.
As firefighters arrived and battled the blaze after members of the family were alerted, Fogarty-Clemons folded her muddied wedding dress nearby.
“She was doing her best to get everybody out,” Bridgeport Deputy Fire Chief Bruce Porzelt said. “It’s got to be a funny thing to end up doing that on your wedding day, in your wedding gown.”
Fire officials said the cause is under investigation. The home’s occupants were not injured, though a firefighter suffered a wrist injury and a lieutenant’s shoulder was injured, Porzelt said.
Schneiderman said it was “surreal” to have a bride show up in her wedding dress to say her house was on fire.
“I wished her mazel tov, remember that,” Schneiderman said. “I thought it was amazing and selfless.”
Her son, Lowell Eitelberg, said Fogarty-Clemons and her friend made sure no one else was at home, then let him use their cell phone. “I think it was a show of real community,” he said.
Fogarty-Clemons, who also knocked on a neighbor’s door to alert them, said what she did was a natural reaction.
“They are my neighbors,” said Fogarty-Clemons, a 31-year-old tax accountant who has two boys, ages 7 and 4. “God forbid if there was a fatality. How could I explain that to my children? I just couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do anything.”
Bost and Fogarty-Clemons said the occupants initially didn’t believe it was a fire — until they showed them the flames. They grew nervous as the residents went back in to get their pets, so Bost went into the foyer to try to coax them out.
“We were getting emotional because the fire was spreading,” Fogarty-Clemons said.
Schneiderman and her son returned to the house Monday to assess the damage. A white plastic fence was curled and melted from the blaze, windows were boarded up and framing was charred.
“The den is totally gone,” Schneiderman told her son.
Schneiderman said she’s not sure what caused the fire, which apparently started on a rear porch. She said she is an unemployed attorney and her husband an unemployed contractor.
Fogarty-Clemons said she hopes the community rallies to help the family.
“They lost so much,” Fogarty-Clemons said. “I think the focus should be on them and what we do for them.”