By JOANNE L. PAPAIANNI
Flags at Asbury Park’s City Hall flew at half mast this week to honor former assistant city manager and Pop Warner coach, James Famularo, 52, who died tragically in a fire in his Park Avenue home on Mon., July 9.
He was at home looking for his wife, Shonna, when the fire broke out Monday afternoon and he was overcome by the smoke and flames. Meanwhile, Shonna, was on the second floor and jumped off the balcony breaking her leg.
Famularo was remembered this week as a one-of-a-kind, intelligent, community-minded, respectful and a fierce advocate for the city’s youth.
Mayor John Moor served on the Board of Education with him.
“There was only one James Famularo,” he said. “He always called me Mr. Moor. He was always so polite.”
That sentiment was echoed by Jim Bruno, who also served on the school board with him and was deputy mayor when Famularo was assistant city manager.
“Up until a few weeks ago he always called me Deputy Mayor Bruno,” he said. “I said, ‘James, you don’t have to do that.’ “
Famularo was a man who was all about the kids.
“He loved this town; he loved the kids,” Bruno said. “His life was Blue Bishops, Blue Bishops, Blue Bishops.”
Residents and officials were still reeling a day after hearing the news of his death.
“I can’t even describe it, it’s too much of a tragedy,” Moor said.
Although Moor and Famularo were often political rivals he said they always maintained a positive relationship.
“It was a special relationship; we were on opposite sides but there was mutual respect,” he said.
According to eyewitnesses the fire spread instantly after smoke coming from the Famularo house at 1509 Park Ave. became visible.
Kimberly Kubicke, who lives across the street, said she had just come home from work and was getting ready to head to the beach when she heard people yelling.
“People were frantic and yelling,” she said.
Kubicke said she heard lots of chatter outside and knew someone was calling 911, but she could not see any smoke at that point.
“I could hear parts of conversations,” she said.
Suddenly, however, she saw some smoke and the house seemed to immediately become engulfed in flames.
“It seemed to come from nothing, I thought is this thing going to explode,” she said.
Kubicke said it was windy with wind coming from the southeast.
Famularo’s house sits midway in a string of attached row houses and the fire impacted houses on both sides of his. The house was completely charred from inside out while damage to the adjoining roofs on either side could be seen from the street.
Famularo’s roof was severely burned and passersby could see the sky through the roof.
ServPro trucks were already lined up on the street in front of the houses on Tuesday.
Next door neighbor James Condos, who lives at 1511 Park Avenue said his house is damaged from top to bottom.
He said he was not home at the time but received a phone call and rushed home.
His dog Dutch was in the house and he said firefighters rescued the animal after being told there was a pet in the home.
Once outside fire fighters administered oxygen to Dutch with a special animal mask.
Condos was staying at The Hotel Tides for a couple of nights but said he would be looking for a more permanent temporary rental for six months while his house is repaired.
Moor praised firefighters for their work at the scene.
“It was a wooden structure, and hot air gets trapped in the attic,” he said. “They were built in the 60s and 70s, who knows what kind of firewalls they have compared to today. The fire department did a good job of knocking it (the fire) down.”
Former Deputy Mayor Bruno remembered growing up with the Famularo family. He was also a political rival of Famularo’s but said, “He was a political foe but what he did for the kids, Pop Warner. He took them to the national championship one year.”
Bruno who lives three blocks from Famularo’s home said he saw smoke and went to the fire.
He recalled their adversarial relationship and Famularo’s commitment to the city.
“He did a lot for the city. He was a fierce political rival for 20 years,” Bruno said. “But after every election we shook hands and we were friends. He didn’t hold grudges.”
Bruno said it took “a lot of guts to run into that fire the way he did” looking for his wife.
Councilman Jesse Kendle worked with Famularo on Pop Warner and said, “He was really good with the kids.”
Kendle said he would be going over to speak with Famularo’s family to offer comfort.
“I’ll do anything to comfort them along the way, whatever they need,” Kendle said.
“I feel so bad for his mother, she is elderly and she has been sick. He was looking forward to having her come live with him,” he said.
Kendle remembered Famularo as an intelligent, knowledgeable man.
Kendle said after Famularo left his job in the city, the two still talked often.
“His heart was in the city,” he said.
Referencing the murder two weeks ago of Jerry Scarano who attended city council meetings religiously, Kendle said, “The city just lost another warrior, I still haven’t gotten over Jerry.”
Famularo received his bachelors and masters degree in public administration from the University of Pittsburgh. He returned to the city after graduation where he spent his whole career.
A remembrance vigil is scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight (July 12) at the Donald Hammary Basketball Courts on Prospect Avenue which he was involved in renovating.
At approximately 3:08 p.m., the Asbury Park Police and Fire Departments responded to the fire. After firefighters were able to get the fire under control, an on-scene investigation determined that the fire originated in the first floor den of the residence. The cause of the fire was determined to be accidental.
The investigation into the fire is being conducted by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, Monmouth County Fire Marshal’s Office and Asbury Park Police Department.
Anyone who believes they have information to assist the investigative team is urged to contact Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office Detective Brian Weisbrot at 800-533-7443 or Asbury Park Police Detective Cynthia Yost at (732) 775-1996.