Firefighter Reunites Cambridge Woman with Her Cats in Viral Video

She hopes the footage helps raise money for her neighborhood.

cambridge fire cat 1

Screenshot via Justin Khoo

It was the morning after the most intense and destructive blaze in recent memory for the city, and Cambridge Fire Department Lt. Brian Casey was there to survey the scene.

No one had been killed or injured in the fire, which began in the afternoon when most people weren’t home, so there was that. But the scene looked like a war-zone. Sixteen buildings were either badly damaged or completely destroyed, and more than 100 people didn’t have a home to return to. Casey was among those tasked with keeping an eye on the debris, in the event the 10-alarm blaze made a reprise.

At one point, an onlooker approached him: There had been a pair of cats belonging to her daughter inside one of the buildings, and they were still missing. It was a long shot, but could someone just check, and see if they might have survived? “We’ll see what we can do,” he said.

After determining it was safe to trudge through the building’s first floor—the third floor and roof had been burnt when the inferno leapt across the street, but the first and second were largely intact, aside from extensive smoke and water damage—he agreed to step inside and look around. “After about 20 hours of fire in the neighborhood,” he says, “I did not expect to find those cats alive.”

He wandered around the apartment, and was peeking under a bed when he heard a noise coming from a nearby closet. Inside, he found a pair of “very scared” cats, one black cat and one orange. “They were petrified, and very willingly came with me.”

He carried them out one-by-one, their furry heads poking out of a jacket and a blanket, and handed them to their owner, Christina Jeffrey. She had already lost both her apartment and possessions, and thought she’d lost her 10-year-old buddies, Mac and Cheese, too. She was overwhelmed by the reunion, and you could see it on her face. Afterward, Jeffrey planted a kiss on Casey’s cheek. So did her mom.

A neighbor, MIT philosophy professor Justin Khoo, filmed the whole thing. It’s been viewed more than 47,000 times on YouTube, and featured in news reports around the world.

“It was incredible,” Khoo says. “It’s just one of the most profoundly open displays of emotion I think I’ve ever seen, and I just thought it was amazing I was able to capture that.”

Mac and Cheese are safe now, Jeffrey says, and the three of them are staying with friends for now. They were “pissed off and hungry,” but, miraculously, completely unharmed. Her apartment was greasy with ash, but her pets were clean and dry. “They used up a lot of their lives. I’m pretty sure they used up 9.5 of them. They had a little bonus.”

She says her building, though, was damaged badly enough that it will soon have to be demolished.

More importantly, though, she says she is thankful for the work first-responders did to contain the flames. It was an exceptionally rare 10-alarm fire, and firefighters from 18 communities drove to Cambridge to help put it out. “They kept our community safe and they got people out who needed to be out,” she says.

Now, she and Khoo are hoping to put the wide appeal of the video to use to help their neighbors. They urge anyone who was touched by it to donate to a city-run fundraiser, which as of Thursday morning had collected more than $570,000.

“It’s been a source of joy for some people in an otherwise really terrible, tragic event,” Khoo says of the video. “And if we can promote the Mayor’s Relief Fund, that’s basically our goal.”

In the meantime, it’s been an unusual couple days for Lt. Casey, who didn’t expect to star in a viral video when he showed up to work on Sunday. As soon as it was published, he says, “My phone blew up.” Friends, family, and firefighters in other cities have written to him about it.

“I’ve made a joke with some of the guys I work with that there are these guys that fought this fire for 18 hours and are utterly exhausted. Everybody probably went home and showered and went to bed on Sunday, and probably didn’t get out of bed until that night,” he says. “They did amazing work—the Cambridge firefighters and all the other communities that came in and assisted—and I went in and pulled a couple cats out and gave them to their owners. And now I’m being interviewed.”

cambridge cats home 1

Mac and Cheese are safe and sound. Photo via Christina Jeffrey