Staten Island Husband John Anstett Saves Wife From Blaze, Then Dies

NY Daily News - December 13, 2009

by Kevin Deutsch, Wil Cruz and Joe Kemp

A 76-year-old Staten Island man died a hero.

John Anstett rescued his elderly wife from a fast-moving fire at their apartment in New Brighton Saturday, but suffered a fatal heart attack during the escape.

Anstett smelled smoke inside his home on Cassidy Place about 7 a.m. He quickly hustled his wife, Lucille, 70, away from danger.

The couple made it out of the apartment, but not out of the building, when the husband collapsed.

"It was the scariest thing I've ever seen," said neighbor Adriene Jones, 73, who saw Anstett lying in the hallway as she tried to flee the burning building.

Anstett's wife was standing over him.

"He looked bad," Jones said. "I knew that was it."

Neighbors said John Anstett, a retired plumber, usually wore an oxygen mask and rode a motorized wheelchair. He was walking when he saved his wife, authorities said.

Paramedics raced him to Richmond University Medical Center, where he died, fire officials said. His wife was treated for minor injuries and released from the hospital.

"I'm going to miss my dad," his daughter, Lucille Widmayer, 48, told the Daily News.

"I'm worried about my mother now that he's gone," she said, adding that the two went clothes shopping because all of the couple's belongings had perished in the flames.

"It's just a tough day for the family," Widmayer said.

Anstett, who had five grandchildren from his three kids, was known for singing and playing the guitar.

"He's such a nice guy," said neighbor Joyce Mandell, adding that Anstett would always talk about his days as a musician. "[He] would come down all the time in his wheelchair and sit and talk to people."

Officials said the fire, which started in the couple's living room at the city-owned housing complex for seniors, did not appear to be suspicious. The blaze may have been connected to an electrical appliance, officials said.

About 400 people live at the Cassidy-Lafayette Houses.

"I'm still in shock," said Anstett's grandson, Michael Widmayer, 15. "My grandpa's gone."

With Barry Paddock and Matthew Lysiak