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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Fire!

Ever wondered what you would do if smoke started pouring through your house and your neighbors began  yelling "fire!" in the middle of the night? 

Now we know. 

We are all okay, our home is okay, our neighbors home is not - although everyone that was there is. From 12:30 AM til 4:30 AM, this is what the scene outside our home looked like:




That is our house directly behind the fire truck. The tall tree in the middle marks the corner of our home and sits just outside Ivie's room, the house beyond that is the home of our sweet neighbors, the Botts, that caught fire.

Because of the way our condos are zoned, our house sits only about fourteen feet south of the home on fire. I'm afraid the house will be nearly a total loss. The garage, two rooms and one bathroom are completely gone - leaving only the master bed and bath and kitchen--but what fire didn't get smoke and water from the trucks has pretty much destroyed.

It is horrendous to watch someone's home burn. Really an experience there are no words for and my heart breaks for the Botts. We were so lucky - a little wind, a little more time and I don't know what might have happened. 

As frightening as this all was - we learned A LOT from this night. We learned a lot about ourselves and about how we need to be more prepared for such emergencies. If you know me, I tend to become an impassioned advocate for whatever recent event/phenomenon I'm currently experiencing - so in the interest of becoming more prepared, I wanted to share our thoughts with everyone on things we wish we had done differently, were glad we did, and hope to be better prepared with next time. The things I felt like we did right are listed in blue, and the things we need to improve are listed in red. 

12:35 - Trevor came running into our bedroom from the office where he had been studying. The back door in our bedroom was open to the screen and he started to hear popping noises and voices outside. I was sleeping. Trevor turned on all the lights and said, "Chelsi there is a house on fire, I think it is Karma's, but it might be ours, we need to get out." We jumped out of bed and ran outside

  • Wear Shoes - Trevor was in such a hurry to see what was going on he ended up with a massive cut on his  toe, ripping part of the toenail off as we ran to help/evaluate the situation. He still doesn't know what he tripped on or kicked. You DO NOT think very clearly in those first panic-filled moments. 
  • Wear Clothes - Sounds obvious right? I was sleeping with hardly a stitch on, which meant that I was soon running around with a hose outside with not much on in front of all my neighbors. (I always sleep in my underwear, and couldn't find anything fast to put on over my pregnant body, so the first thing I had were sweat pants=good, and a skimpy, low-cut black spaghetti strap that hardly covered my stomach at all = not so good) So glad a neighbor brought me out a sweater. 

12:40 - Once outside we could see that our house wasn't on fire, but had great potential to be. We ran inside and moved a sleeping Ivie out of her bed and onto the couch inside the front door (her room was closest to where the fire was) . We also shut all our doors and screens to stop smoke from pouring into our house. We learned that different people react very differently to things. The Botts were out of their house, and so were the Lukes across the street. They had called the fire department already, but were then simply standing watching things burn. Just as we were coming out is when we heard our other neighbor J.A yell that someone needed to get the Lindermans out. I think the Botts and Lukes were in shock. JA was really the only one operating with his head on at the time. He asked about hoses to start spraying down our side of the other houses closest to the Botts. 

  • Always keep pressure nozzle sprayers on the hoses and the hoses hooked to the spouts in the appropriate season - YAY! We did this one right. Those pressure sprayers work way better for coverage than a dinky hose stream would.
  • Keep your hoses organized and coiled correctly. Our hoses were a MESS. It was frustrating to try and yank them around bushes and corners when they had giant knots and snarls in them. We'll be buying some hose-keepers this week. ***I'm not sure how much difference it made to keep the houses around the one on fire watered down, those flames were so hot and so intense, but it made us all feel like we were doing something, and that mattered. 

12.50 - The police come. When the police arrived they told us we needed to get all living things out of our house. We got Ivie and the animals. We put the animals in the big car, which was parked in the street in front of our house.

  • Trevor realized we needed to move our car. You shouldn't be lazy and park on the street in front of your house if possible. We did this right. The fir trucks parked right where our car was to have the best access to Botts. I'm sure they could have worked around it, need be, but we will now be parking our car in the actual parking lot across the street. It's a short walk and safer for everyone.
  • Ivie was terrified. She thought our house was on fire. It is such an awful thing to see, and no child should ever have to see that. I got her out of there asap. I walked with her in my arms to Darci's house on the other side of the neighborhood complex. I knew Darci could take care of her while I was at our house. No matter where we live I will always have a neighbor within walking distance who I can take my children to in emergencies like this. Little kids should not see such things. Ivie is still freaked out today. I will communicate with these neighbors way before anything happens, and make sure that my children are familiar and comfortable with them. This takes effort to be a good neighbor and establish these relationships, but it is so important. Darci said Ivie clung to her and cried a bit for awhile. She told me to stay at her house too, but I realized that Trevor had no idea where we were, and I needed to go back to our house. Darci said Ivie could sleep at her house and to call if we needed somewhere to sleep too. She said Ivie held her hand the whole night, and when she and her husband woke up this morning with Ivie between them, Ivie had a hold of one of Gordon's hands and one of Darci's. They talked with her a lot about the fire, and tried to ease her concerns. We've still been talking about it a lot today.

Sometime later - Honestly, I'm not sure when the fire department got there. It felt like forever. Once they arrived we all just sort of stood around and watched. But it made us think of the following things:


  • Everyone was out of their houses, but had the fire fighters needed to go in to find anyone, I would have wanted it to be as easy as possible for them. I don't think I've ever had better motivation to keep my house picked up. The fire department cut the power to the Bott's house as soon as they got there, so they were operating in complete darkness and flames. I don't want to ever be in the position that I have a ton of crap out on my floor if someone is trying to find their way through our house in fiery darkness. This also made us think a lot about simplifying the layout and contents of our rooms. For example, there is WAY TOO MUCH crap out in Ivie's room. There would be too many places for her to hide if she was afraid and in a fire. We are going to be moving some stuff out of her space, putting other things up in her closet and only getting them out to play with etc. It made me realize that a de-cluttered house is really a much safer house. 
The fire aftermath--We stood by our neighbors on the other side of the street and watched things unfold. As we listened to the firemen come and talk with the Botts, we realized there were things we needed to do to be more prepared for the aftermath of a fire. 
  • Save all insurance contacts and policy number information in our phones. The fire department informed the Botts they needed to call their insurance provider asap, even at 2:00 AM. They couldn't do so because all their insurance info. was either in the house or in the cars in the garage. 
  • A few weeks ago we actually gutted out office and I organized important papers into these binders.
          The black binder on the top is full of our crucial life documents and info (each family member birth certificates, passports, social security info., list of all medications and medical history, marriage certificates, major pet records, car titles) I need to add insurance info and policy numbers into this binder. THEN we actually need to grab the binder when we leave the house. This was the whole point of making the binder - and we pretty much failed first shot out the gate. Deciding who is going to grab our emergency binders/documents will become a part of our active emergency plan and drill - so we all know ahead of time who is getting kids, animals, items etc. 
  • Inventory the house. As we listened to the Bott's talk, we realized we need to inventory the items in each room in our house. They hadn't done this and were overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to list items down last night. This is my project this week, to create another binder to keep our house inventory in. The home owners manuals and warranties binder I made last week has a lot of info. about our big ticket and gadgety items, but I was surprised to hear the fire inspector tell the Botts that they even needed to estimate how many clothes, shoes, plates etc. they had. He said that insurance companies bank on people not knowing this information, and then push for quick smaller settlements. I'm going to go through our house room by room throughout this week and list, photograph and video the contents. 
  • Create a "bug out bag" for our family and keep it either in a car or in the hall closet by the front door. As the fire fighters were fighting the blaze, they kept coming over to ask about crucial items and their location in the home that they might be able to rescue. One of the things they asked about were crucial medications. This made us realize that we needed a bag that had a change of clothes for everyone, toothbrushes and medications in it that was easy to access and grab on the way out the door. The Botts lost nearly everything. As we've checked in and talked throughout the day we learned they didn't have any clothes besides what was on their backs when they left. We plan to make a bug out bag and then use LDS general conference to update its contents every 6 months as kids grow. We always have some downtime while watching conference, so it will be a good time to update the contents of the bag and keep up on our emergency plan. We will be putting our first bag together this week and either keeping it in the car trunk (since we never park in the garage) or in the hall closet by the front door. 
  • Organize pictures and location - this was one of the first things the fire fighters asked to try and locate while they fought the fire. That was interesting to me. I've actually been working on organizing all our digital pics. into a system of CDs. But they are so far stored in an awkward place in my basement that I don't think I could even describe to someone unfamiliar with our house. It made me realize I needed to have these digital pics and any print pics in an easier to access place and in a more organized fashion. 
  • The biggest thing that we learned is that we need to HAVE A PLAN. we need to sit down and discuss who is grabbing who, what, and where we are meeting outside. We need to practice this plan too, frequently  maybe as part of family home evening once a month or every other month?  Trevor remembers his family doing something like this as a kid, and we realized how important it is during the panic-induced moments that we experienced last night. Without a plan you know and practice you simple won't think of the right things to do. We didn't, and it wasn't even our house that was directly on fire. 
I also think that one of the greatest things we learned is that as devastating as a fire can be, the people are who matter. Ironically as I visited with Karma today she told me how one of the few things that hadn't been destroyed in her living room was a sign above a doorway that read: Our joy is not in things, it is in us. We agreed there is no more fitting sentiment to survive such a disaster. 
The Botts' garage

My heart aches for them, the days moving forward will be hard and I hope we can help our neighbors as well as prepare ourselves more effectively for whatever life decides to throw at us. We are so grateful that our home and family are safe. We are so thankful to live in a place where neighbors come running when they see trouble. We are very, very blessed tonight and always. 

If you have something to add to our list, please leave me a comment with your prep ideas! I think we can all learn from each other and our experiences.