Yesterday, she brought her youngest child, 6-year-old Reginald, and her godmother, Jacqueline Greer, who witnessed the rescue. For the meeting, Anderson swept her hair in a curly updo and carefully applied lip gloss.The women brought Carroll a giant stuffed bear, and a thank-you card tucked inside an envelope addressed "To Our Hero."
Richard Paris, vice president of the firefighters union, stood nearby with Carroll's wife and little Reginald, who kicked at the frozen snow on the sidewalk as Greer, Carroll, and Anderson reminisced about the neighborhood. Gone were the brick high-rises that had once formed Orchard Park. In their place were two-level attached apartments painted in pastels and browns.
"I haven't been here in so long," Carroll said.
No one could remember exactly what started the fire on Nov. 7, 1968, but Greer said it began in the family's kitchen. Carroll, who was assigned to Engine 3, heard the report of children trapped in a burning building.
When Carroll arrived, Greer was at the scene, screaming and crying hysterically.
Carroll saved Evangeline, while Firefighter Charles Connolly rescued her 17-month-old brother, Gerry, and handed him to Lieutenant Joseph O'Donnell, who gave the boy mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
"He just cared," Greer, now 60, said of Carroll. "It wasn't that the child was black or she was white. It was a child and he was trying his best to bring her back her life.
"Yesterday, both remembered who was missing from the reunion. Connolly and O'Donnell died long ago of heart problems. Anderson's brother Gerry succumbed to pneumonia as a toddler. Her grief-stricken mother turned to drugs for comfort, and died of an overdose at age 25. Her two sisters died young of natural causes. Last year, Anderson lost both her adoptive mother and uncle.
"I wish my friends...were here," Carroll said. "But they're up there watching over us."
"That's what I say about my family," Anderson said.The two quickly built a rapport. He asked about her children, and she told him her eldest son was studying forensic science in college and how musical her other children are.
He told her he wanted to get to know her, and she promised to cook him some soul food.
"Oh, baby," he said, laughing. "I love it, but my stomach don't."
Carroll then took the group for lunch at Florian Hall, the union's headquarters, where Carroll still goes every week for coffee with friends or to help fellow retirees with healthcare questions. Over sandwiches, the group looked at old black-and-white photos of that day and traded stories about the challenges of raising children.
Carroll bonded with Anderson's son, who drew a picture of himself holding Carroll's hand.
Parting in the parking lot, Carroll hugged Greer and Anderson and told Reginald to call him.There's your new grandpa," Anderson said to her son.
"What a beautiful day," the retired firefighter said as he turned and walked back inside.