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Fire: An Equal Opportunity Destroyer

Pat and Eileen Lawless share their Red Cross story.
Your mind races in a million directions and you do not know how much time you have and what you can get out, if anything. At that point we were out of the house and safe and that was all that mattered to us at that time.

Dino Ingram is a Red Cross volunteer and contributing writer.

It’s a normal, rainy Sunday morning. You’re in the bathroom brushing your teeth in the house that you had custom built more than two decades earlier. Your husband is outside checking the truck windows to keep the seats dry. You hear a loud noise, like a muted explosion, thinking to yourself that the power company just lost a transformer, no big deal. Then you see the smoke coming through the light fixtures. Your house just suffered a lightening strike! You grab what you can in fifteen seconds and run out of the house to warn your husband. As you look back, fear and panic turn to disbelief as the flames, rising on the back of your house, systematically consume the home where you raised two daughters. The fire grows exponentially, blowing out windows, destroying your children’s memory boxes and devouring all the physical possessions that you hold so dear. Your consolation, you have escaped with your life.

Pat and Eileen Lawless are fifty-eight and fifty-seven, respectively. They’ve been married for thirty-seven years, and this is exactly what happened to them late in the summer of 2013. Their house was a total loss and all their possessions were destroyed. What took more than thirty years to accumulate was wiped out in less than an hour. Eileen framed her reaction quite succinctly.

“Your mind races in a million directions and you do not know how much time you have and what you can get out, if anything. At that point we were out of the house and safe and that was all that mattered to us at that time.”

I was on the Red Cross Disaster Assistance Team (DAT) that responded to Pat and Eileen Lawless' home. We were there in less than an hour from the point the DAT captain, Gary Duncan, received the call. When we arrived, the house was fully consumed, the fire department hitting the remaining pockets of smoldering embers, the water knocking down the fragile remains of blackened, crumbling walls that once stood strong against wind and rain. The air was thick with the acrid smoke and steam that clung to our clothing. All of these, reminders that we were there to help people who’ve lost everything they own. Eileen shared her thoughts on this.

“The Red Cross DAT team provided important information and numbers as well as supplies and water. The Red Cross offered us a place to stay. The Red Cross provided reassurance and piece of mind in a time of need.”

It’s now more than six months later. Pat and Eileen are moving forward, rebuilding on their existing foundation. Their NEW home is in the process of being enclosed and they’re making their decisions for the inside and outside of their new house. As Eileen puts it, “We see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Eileen and her husband have developed a fresh appreciation for friends and family, knowing that they could not have made it through the experience without the help of many people. They’ve also learned the importance of doing a home inventory and creating video documentation.

“We have spent endless hours having to recall what we lost while in the middle of dealing with our loss of lifelong memories.”

Pat and Eileen were fortunate in that they had insurance to cover their loss. They now understand the value of knowing their insurance policy limits and keeping their coverage up to date. Unfortunately, many of the DAT fire calls involve families who have no financial backstop. Please, do all you can to provide that extra measure of financial protection in case you find yourself in a similar situation. Also, remember that regardless of your financial situation, the Red Cross is there to help you in your time of need.