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I was forwarded the letter below (in red) from my wife.  Her sisters’ life-long friend sent it to her. 

Mike had a fire in his home and lost everything.  Literally, everything.  This is not about the fire department that responded.  This is an extremely rural, mountainous region and I am sure they did everything possible.

The reason for this is simply to remind us all of what I am sure most of us take for granted.  “Someone had a fire in their home”!  OMG!  I have gone to thousands of fires.  Most of you have as well been to your share.  Another day, another fire, more hose to clean, SCBA bottles to fill and apparatus to clean up. We have as I have said, been there! But for the most part, this probably the first and last fire they will ever experience.

But never forget the needs of the victims.  This is directed especially to company and chief officers.  Spend time with the victims.  I don’t mean invite them over to dinner but talk to them.    

Some thoughts:

  • Overhaul and salvage like it was your house and your stuff!  Nothing got me madder than standing outside and watching firefighters “throw” un-damaged stuff out windows.  Especially when I knew the victims had no insurance. 
  • Ask the victims of their “status”.  “Do you have someplace to go?”  If not,  connect them with social services to help.  Red Cross, Salvation Army etc. 
  • Give them suggestions on how to protect anything worth protecting.  Tell them there are companies that will come and board the house up. 
  • Make sure utilities are taken care of and left in a safe manner. 
  • Use rug runners at small fires. Don’t know what a rug runner is, find out. Don’t have them – get them.  When I first came on the job only the outlying trucks (high-value districts) had rug runners.  Inner-city trucks didn’t have them!  What kind of commentary is that?  Every truck and engine company should carry some.  (The last time a furnace service man came to my house, he put paper booties on over his shoes so as to not track mud and dirt into my house.  What a novel idea! – Protecting property!)

One of my most respected mentors, Chief Brunacini taught the four priorities of the Incident Commander as 1) Firefighter Safety, 2) Civilian Safety, 3) Stop the problem (fire) and 4) Conserve property.

Again, this is not about the actual fire mike had or the department that responded. It’s about attitude, doing what’s right and the best you can.

Think about what we can do to conserve property.  As much property as possible.  What may seem worn, old, dirty, damaged and otherwise junk to you may be all someone has.  Put yourself in Mikes shoes. Do the very best you can at everything, Attacking, Searching, Venting and  salvage.

 

Dear friends and family,

Two nights ago my cabin in Vermont burned to the ground.  A flash fire from a gasoline generator started the fire.  Within 60 seconds the entire kitchen and living room was engulfed in flames and black smoke.  I barely had time to get myself and my two dogs, Sonny and Gabe out of the cabin before the explosions started. I was left standing outside in only a pair of pajamas and rubber boots.  It was minus 7 degrees and the four wheeler I use to get up and down the mountain would not start for 10 minutes.  I had to choose between a 20 minute walk with hardly in any clothes on in sub zero temperatures or risk starting the four wheeler which was ten feet in front of the burning cabin.  I risked starting the four wheeler and I was eventually successful.  My neighbor called the fire department but the cabin was completely engulfed long before they arrived.

The cabin and contents are a total loss.  Sadly, I brought every picture I owned with me on this trip because I was going to organize a photo album.  All my childhood photos and all my photos of my Peace Corps experience in Central Africa are gone.  I believe I still have most of the photos of Susanne and I from Paris and Barbados but all my cards and letters from her, including my wedding band are gone.  Many other very personal items were lost in addition to my address books, my camera, my wallet, my work materials, my computer, all of my work supplies and all of the work I was completing on four landscape designs.  In other words I was left standing with only the clothes on my back.

I am truly greatful I and my dogs are alive.  I don't really know how I was able to keep from being severely burned or killed.  The fire was that fast and that intense.  I admit that I am a bit traumatized by it.   I did get a bit of frostbite on three fingers on my left hand and my hair was a bit singed on the right side of my head but I am fine other than that.  My neighbors, Matt and Meagan graciously took me in and I and the dogs are staying with them while I work with the insurance company.  In addition to being alive, that is the other good news.  The house was covered by insurance so I will at least be compensated financially.

I have no idea what I will do when I leave here, whether I will rebuild or move on. Right now I am spending time in deep reflection about my life, Susanne's life and all of you.  Beyond all doubt I know that there is only love, the material things about us are just reminders of what is truly real.  It is difficult to contact me while I am in Vermont.  I'll be leaving here in a day or two.  I'll let you know when I return.  I am so humbly grateful for each and every one of you.

Lots of love,

Mike

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