Delivery driver in the right place at the right time

Pizza delivery driver ran into burning building to help wake resident

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 11/25/20

Carl DaPonte resists the “hero” label.

“I did what anyone should have done,” said the Swansea resident of the scene he happened upon while delivering a Pizza Wave pie in …

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Delivery driver in the right place at the right time

Pizza delivery driver ran into burning building to help wake resident


Carl DaPonte resists the “hero” label.

“I did what anyone should have done,” said the Swansea resident of the scene he happened upon while delivering a Pizza Wave pie in Warren on Saturday night. “I didn’t realize what was going on, everyone was running around in panic mode — I almost hit someone — so I pulled over.”

The someone he almost hit was one of the sons of Mercedez Ferguson, who was just finishing dinner in her family’s first-floor apartment at 211 Market St. with sons Maximus, 8, and Mathias, 5, when Mathias heard a smoke alarm upstairs. “I don’t like it,” Ms. Ferguson said Mathias said. “He’s heard smoke alarms before, but this time, I don’t know, it was kid’s intuition.”

“I looked out the window and could see the flames from the second floor reflecting in my car windows.”

From there, it was a bit of a blur. Ms. Ferguson remembers screaming, ushering the kids outside, grabbing one cat, then lifting up a mattress to get the other out of hiding. In there somewhere, she called 911, and ran upstairs and banged on the second-floor door, which was locked. There was no answer.

Sometime during that chaos, Mr. DaPonte dashed upstairs.

A former Army reservist and member of the 126th Aviation Regiment of the Rhode Island National Guard, Mr. DaPonte assumes that his military training kicked in at some point, but he really doesn’t remember. “I was on autopilot, I think.”

He ran up the stairs, and, thinking he would beat the door open with it, he tore the banister off the wall. But the orientation of the apartment door in the narrow stairway left no room for him to use it. Then he tried to punch the panel of the door with his fist, but only succeeded in injuring his hand. At this point the hallway was filling with smoke, so he kicked out the windows opposite the apartment door to vent the stairway. Then he tried something different.

“I’ve gained a bit of weight during this pandemic, you know?” Mr. DaPonte said. “I guess it’s a good thing. I don’t know what made me do this, but I thought instead of just sitting on my big butt, I’d use it as a battering ram.”

It worked.

Mr. DaPonte could see the reflection of the fire in the sliver of clear air that was at floor level — otherwise the apartment was filled with acrid smoke — and he had no idea what the layout of the apartment was. “I tried to breathe and it was the worst — like inhaling burned plastic. We had to experience what it was like to be in a gas chamber when I was in Army basic training,” he said. “This was ten times worse.”

“I have never experienced anything like that in my life. I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t see anything.”

Just then, a man materialized from the smoke, then turned and ran away again. Mr. DaPonte yelled at him with the last of his breath, then had to retreat to the hall to breathe. It was at that moment that police, and then fire personnel showed up and sent Mr. DaPonte outside, where he saw the man from the second-floor residence talking to first responders.

The man apparently ran down the other set of stairs after being awakened — in the nick of time — by Mr. DaPonte smashing in his door with his derriere.

Mr. DaPonte, who maintains delivery job schedules with four separate clients, eventually made it back to Pizza Wave, with a good excuse for taking longer than expected. “It was my first night on the job,” he said. “They wanted to send me home after that, but I still wanted to work.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Ferguson, the boys, and Marques Franklin, (their father and her fiancé), are salvaging what possessions they can while couch-surfing with friends and looking for new housing, something made all the more challenging with the pandemic and the holidays. She says she is so very grateful for the kindness of the community, from other families at the Hugh Cole School, where their boys are students, sending her home Monday with new clothes, to Jezzalee Nunes, Maximus’ soccer coach, organizing a Gofundme effort ( for the family.

“I’m so grateful,” said Ms. Ferguson. “Everyone has been so supportive. It’s really amazing.”

Mr. DaPonte, too, is feeling the support of the community, as word of his selfless deed gets out. Well, most of the community has been supportive, anyway. After he left the scene of the fire, he still had that pizza to deliver. When he did, along with an apology and explanation that he was late because he stopped to break down the door of a burning building, the customer said he wanted the pizza for free, since it had been in a fire.

“It was comedy,” Mr. DaPonte said. “I was like, the pizza’s fine, I didn’t take it in with me.

“And it’s still warm.”

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.