Sachem coach: 'Blessed' despite Farmingville fire
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Sachem East High School varsity football coach Mark Wojciechowski stood outside the charred remains of his lifelong home Wednesday and said that despite losing everything, he felt "blessed."
His family was safe, support was pouring in from the close-knit Sachem school district community and his youngest daughter, he said, was "a hero." Mia, 7, had run screaming into her parents bedroom around 2 a.m. Wednesday to alert them of the fire.
"She saved the family," Wojciechowski said. "She's a hero."
As news of the fire spread through Farmingville, teachers organized to collect donations. Colleagues, administrators, neighbors and friends stopped by to comfort the family. Many contributed cash -- including children who dipped into their pockets to give whatever they had.
"It's very humbling," said Wojciechowski, 44, who coaches at Sachem East and teaches at Sachem North. "That's what I love about where I work and who I work with, and the students. There's a motto about the Sachem family: When people are in need people rally around them."
Wojciechowski was also thankful that he and his wife, Mary; their daughters Mia and Gabrielle, 8; nephew Julian, 17, and their Jack Russell terrier made it out of the house safely.
Mia had a simple explanation for alerting her parents. "I couldn't sleep," she said Wednesday.
Volunteers from Farmingville, Holtsville, Ronkonkoma, Selden and Medford fire departments fought the blaze on South Howell Avenue after getting a 2:27 a.m. alarm, but the flames had already engulfed the house. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
The family's loss shook and motivated the community.
John Heslin, president of the Sachem Central Teachers Association, said a donation drive collected $5,000 in an hour and a half.
"The students were coming in saying, 'Can I give a dollar or $5 dollars?' " he said.
Wojciechowski, a former high school football star, longtime social studies teacher and dean at Sachem North in Lake Ronkonkoma, is known for his generosity, friends said. "He's got a heart of gold," said Tom Cestaro, a social studies teacher at Sachem East.
As the first-year varsity coach last season, Wojciechowski guided Farmingville's Sachem East to its first postseason win before losing to district rival Sachem North in the semifinals.
"He's been a pillar in the community just by what he does on a daily basis," said Sachem North Principal John Dolan.
Sachem East Principal Rory Manning said the support and donations are "a testament to him [Wojciechowski] and his relationship with the kids and the staff and the community. People here respect him so much and have always said they'd give him the shirt off their back. . . . Now, they're literally going to if that's what it takes."
With John Valenti
and Andy Slawson