More on Fire

Fire has been part of my life from my earliest memories. Our house burned (kitchen area) in 1952. I was three and caught in the kitchen‚ still have a snapshot memory of that. My father rushed in to rescue me. In the process he singed his lungs. My forehead had 2nd degree burns and entire face 1st degree. Being Irish and having that happen, I cannot be out in the sun very long.

I worked on the Maintenance Crew of the School District for four years while in college (1967-1970). One of the men I worked with was also a volunteer firefighter. One afternoon on the way home, the traffic was at a stand sill (yeah, in the country). There was an accident and my friend responded. One car was on fire, and the people were still alive, yet they couldn’t do anything to get out and neither could the fire fighters. Their screams haunted him for years. That stuck with me, too.

I served in the Navy from 1973-1982. I deployed aboard the USS Oriskany (CVA-34) for its last cruise (1975-6). We never had fire drills aboard the ship—Why? Because we has so many real fires that we didn’t need drills.

I worked at Sprint from 2000-2008. When we moved to the new campus (one of the first groups to do so), they wanted “Safety Monitors” (think fire). I accepted the position with one provision: if we ever had a drill, everyone on the floor (about 100 people) had to evacuate, no exceptions. People thought I was bluffing—until the first drill.

When the alarm went off, I began chasing people out, going to every desk in the unit. Some were reluctant. One Director did not want to go during a drill, I didn’t care. I offered that the Director could walk out, or be carried out. I went to VP and said we all needed to participate in a timely manner.  VP agreed—until a few fire drills later. I broke into an “important” meeting that the VP was having. VP was not happy, and mentioned that he was a VP and far outranked an analyst. I told VP that once the alarm went off I outranked him. We did have a couple fires over the years.

Interestingly after a couple years of training, our unit was always the first safely outside, accounted for, and reported.

When we moved to another building a (different) Director went to the (different) VP and said: I don’t care where you put me as long as Rich is the Safety Monitor on the floor.

I don’t have all the answers regarding fires, I only know from experience that thinking ahead and planning is critical. So when people talk about fire, DO NOT take an indifferent attitude, that doesn’t set well with me and shouldn’t with you.

We have moved 28 times. One of the first things we do is look at the fire escape routes. When we adopted our boys we did the same thing. Telling about fire dangers is not scaring them, it is protecting them They are worth it—you are worth it.

A couple years after the fire I discovered several 2nd cousins on my father’s side (my father never knew his father or any family until he met an aunt and uncle in 1979). There were about 10 of us in the family room talking. I mentioned the fire we had in 1998. I noticed concerned glances going around the room and couldn’t figure out what was going on. So I asked.

They said going back to my great-grandfather, every generation in every family branch, there was at least one fire. So my father had the fire in 1952, mine in 1998. And going back to the 1870s the pattern had held in every family. Sadly my son was in the 1998 fire, so he joins that “heritage.” Yeah, fire has been part of my life far longer than I imagined.

Bottom line: be prepared, be wise. If you have smoke detectors in your home or office, make sure they work, batteries are replaced regularly. If the alarm goes off, get everyone out—right away, if a fire extinguisher is handy and may be sufficient, good, but don’t risk other lives. Two minutes can be the difference between life or death.

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June 30 — not on the calendar

There are special days on the calendar that carry much meaning and joy: birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, moving days, etc. We may likely mark them on the calendar, as if we could forget them. They help define us and shape us.

Other days are still significant, but carry much different meaning. The focus isn’t joy, but something just as profound. We may not mark the date on the calendar, but our hearts know exactly the date. Etched in memory for good or bad.

June 30 is such a date for me.

Background

We were married in early 1971. One of the first things we did was to make sure we had smoke alarms. Second thing: we changed the batteries on April 1 and October 1, every year. I couldn’t do anything on those two days until the batteries were changed. A private joke between us. Little did we know how critical this would be.

In 1998, our son, his wife, and three grandchidlren (ages 3, 2, 1) had been living with us (in the parsonage) for almost a year and a half. A delightful time of love, and adjustment. Many happy memories amidst the challenges and struggles of melding two families.

June 30, 1998

In June 1998, my wife and I took vacation to Minnesota. At the end of that time, my wife decided to stay with her parents for a longer time. I drove home on June 29, a 12 hour drive capped off with joy at seeing our loved ones again after weeks apart. Our DIL’s youngest brother (age 12) was staying with us at the time, too.

At 4:45 AM the next morning our lives changed dramatically. The snoke alarms in the entire house were going off. The initial fogginess quickly dissapated. Replaced by urgency!

Our son instantly grabbed the keys to get our cars out of the garage and driveway. Our DIL and her brother and I began gathering up the grandchildren to get them outside. We had no time for gathering anything but children—no clothes, no extras, just get them out.

We rushed across the parking lot to the church. Since there were no cell phones, we had to get there to call the fire department. We could not even get near the house by that time. I don’t remember the time it took but eventually the police cars and fire trucks were all over the parking lot.

I remember one fireman said they couldn’t even go into the house for the first 20 minutes because the smoke was so bad. Later one of the investigators noted that had we been two minutes later getting out, we would not have survived because of the smoke.

The Aftermath

Later that morning and afternoon, the sudden change in our lives was further highlighted because we had no place to live (for 8 of us). We had no clothing, no food, nothing. We were in survival mode and even thinking about any immediate needs was beyond us.

By that time I was so shelled shocked I couldn’t think straight. But members of the church were arriving and helping us with minute to minute decisions. Including getting some food for the kids because breakfast was not a top priority initially. These people opened their homes—by afternoon we were separated into three different homes. We stayed with them for the next weeks until I could find a house for us to live in.

So grateful to those three families for sharing everything with us. That became our safe haven. We will never forget their kindness and love, their help in our instanteous need. Thankful for many others who pitched in with immediate clothing needs. We lost all of our household goods as well.

I felt really bad for our son and DIL—they had been saving some household items each month for the time when they would get their own place. They stored all of that in the basement —in the center of the fire. They lost everything. My heart was broken for them.

Both our son and DIL demonstrated how strong they were that day and in the following days. Both acted quickly, but never in a panic. I am so proud of what they did and all that they had been through. Love you both so much. 

One Last Effect

June 30, 1998 will be etched in all our minds as the day of the fire. Happily we had no injuries/burns. Our son and DIL eventually had two more children.

For me it marked the 7th major crisis in 9 months in my life. Three weeks later I had my breakdown—and that has affected me every day since then.

June 30 will not be marked on our calendars, but will be seared into our memories. So thankful to God for saving us that day, for seeing us through the long months afterward.