Benita Thomas loved children. The 68-year-old raised four of her own and looked after many others while working at different day care centers over the years, a family member said Thursday.
Aisha Thomas, 38, one of Benita’s daughters, was a quiet woman but someone who loved her family and loved making cakes for special days.
Both Benita and Aisha Thomas were killed as a result of a fire late Wednesday night at their home, according to the family member, Sheryl Smith.
Benita Thomas, who had been pulled from the burning home by police officers and flown to Westchester Medical Center with severe burns, died Thursday afternoon, Smith said. Aisha Thomas died at the scene.
Firefighters and police responded to the 1588 Bradley St. residence just after 11 p.m. Wednesday. They found a home engulfed in flames. The fire’s cause was later ruled accidental.
The first responders arrived to reports that there were victims still inside the house.
Police officers were among the first on scene. From the door, they could see a woman inside the burning first floor and they made the split-second decision to get her out, police Sgt. Matthew Dearing said. The woman was identified by Smith as Benita Thomas.
The four officers who went in got Benita out, but not before suffering smoke inhalation themselves, Dearing said. They were treated and released.
Arriving firefighters continued the efforts.
“All of our manpower was focused on making sure the rescue was done upon arrival,” Fire Chief Ray Senecal said. “All of our effort is concentrated on getting people out of the building.”
At least three firefighters were also injured, Senecal said. One suffered an arm injury, another a hand injury and the third a knee injury.
Fire officials said two other officers suffered a foot injury and a cut, respectively.
At least two residents escaped without injury, officials said. Smith said Benita Thomas’ husband and younger son were there and escaped.
The fire wasn’t brought under control until about 4 a.m., Senecal said.
The cause of the fire was determined to be electrical. The blaze started in the basement of the home, Senecal said.
Damage to the home was extensive and the city was moving to demolish it later Thursday.
The Thomas family had owned the house at the corner of Bradley and Furman since 1999, county property records show.
Neighbors recalled a tight-knit family.
“It’s just a sad, sad thing,” said Gary Hughes, who lives across the street. “They were just good people.”
Smith explained how her niece Aisha was skilled at making birthday cakes for family and friends.
Smith pulled up Aisha’s Facebook page on her phone and showed pictures of several of the cakes she made. For one family member who turned 77 and loved going to the casino, she made a cake that looked like a slot machine. For a cousin who liked macaroni and cheese, she made a cake that looked like a pan of macaroni and cheese.
“The last thing she posted on her Facebook page was her favorite cakes that she had done,” Smith said. “It was cool. It was really cool.”
Smith remembered her sister Benita as always being a nice person. While growing up, Benita, who was 14 years older than Smith, always made sure Smith was ready for school, and that she got there.
“She was just very nice,” Smith said. “She loved kids.”
Benita Thomas worked at different day cares over the years. In 2005, she was working for the YWCA of Schenectady Children’s Center at Steinmetz Homes, newspaper records show. The occasion for the business note was that Thomas had earned a special credential.
In February 2012, she was one of seven Schenectady grandmothers honored by the YWCA at its annual Unsung Heroine Celebration. She was honored for raising her four children and then raising two grandchildren. She had four grandchildren in all, Smith said.
One of those, Rhamir Thomas, then 18, was headed off to college that fall. He presented his grandmother a bouquet of flowers at the ceremony, saying she had always been there for him.
“She spoiled me, but she said I’m spoiled, but not rotten,” Rhamir told The Daily Gazette at the ceremony. “She’s always had a kind heart and been really patient for me when I thought even I wasn’t deserving of it, so I’m just thankful for everything she did.”
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Categories: News, Schenectady County