It was hot on the night of June 1, 2013 – 90 degrees with 100 percent humidity – and it got a lot hotter for Beverly Belton when a fire sparked in the attic of her home on the corner of West Third and Vorhees streets in Fulton (Oswego County).
Unaware of the danger lurking just one floor above her, Beverly was getting ready to take a bath when a police officer kicked down the door and shouted for her to evacuate the building.
After exiting the building, Beverly was shocked, disoriented, and had nowhere to go.
She watched helplessly as her home, belongings, and memories went up in flames. The enormity and devastation of what was happening wasn’t sinking in as she struggled to understand how everything was gone – just like that.
“I swear to God,” she recalled, “the fire reached the clouds.”
Beverly’s home was destroyed, but thankfully she was not injured. And she walked away from that experience with a fierce determination to give back to those who helped so much in her time of need.
She now thinks of that police officer as her hero; without him, she might not be alive today. He was just the first of many heroes that Beverly would encounter that night and in the following days, and it’s why she has made it her mission to convince local, state and federal government officials to create an annual “First Responders Day” to honor those who risk their lives every day to help others.
“The Responders Showed How Much They Truly Care”
While the loss of her home still stings, what Beverly most remembers from that night is the efforts of the officers and volunteers who responded to the scene. Several went back into the burning building in an attempt to retrieve some of her belongings, including her purse and diabetic medication. Others tried to console her.
“First responders were helping first responders,” Beverly said. “That night, the responders showed how much they truly, truly care.”
She describes them as warm, friendly people who were genuinely concerned about her. When dealing with a life-changing emergency, sometimes a friendly face can make all the difference in the world.
About an hour after the fire started, a call was made to the American Red Cross, giving Beverly hope that help was on the way. About 12:30 a.m., Red Cross volunteers arrived to get Beverly out of the rain and into a Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV). They made sure Beverly felt safe and comfortable and provided her with water, clothing, and a teddy bear that was in the ERV. Beverly jokingly said that she’d prefer to have a man, but would gladly take the teddy bear as a substitute.
The Red Cross also provided Beverly with a room at the Riverside Inn in Fulton. The Red Cross, Beverly’s church (First United Methodist) and others chipped in to pay for her two-week stay at the hotel until she could find a more permanent place to live.
The fire may have been put out, but the struggle to rebuild her life had just started. It took immense strength and faith along with the help and donations from friends and organizations for Beverly to get back on her feet. Raymour and Flanigan Furniture, for example, generously gave her a new couch and chair.
First Responders Day
After spending 36 years working in the hotel/restaurant business and winning a national award for her service, Beverly is aware of the effort that goes into caring for others. And that’s why she wants to create a day to celebrate the work of first responders like the police officer who saved her life. She feels they should receive the recognition they deserve, and so she has set out on a mission involving numerous phone calls and letters to the media and elected officials.
At first, her plan to recognize first responders went nowhere. But she didn’t give up, and she found a supporter in Congressman Dan Maffei, whose 24th District includes Fulton. Maffei’s office has been working closely with Beverly, who hopes to launch a national holiday known as First Responders Day. The day would honor all of the hardworking, compassionate individuals who help others.
Beverly also wrote to President Obama in an effort to get his personal support of the holiday. The President’s office returned a copy of a proclamation, signed by President Obama, declaring the week of May 18-24 as Emergency Medical Services Week. That’s a start, Beverly thought.
Together, she and her team have made great progress; the bill was introduced to the New York State House of Representatives and appears to be on track to getting passed.
On Sept. 19, 2014, Beverly hosted a reception at the City of Fulton Municipal Building to honor local first responders and thank the state and federal representatives who have been working with her to create a First Responders Day. About 50 first responders, government officials, and representatives from humanitarian organizations such as the American Red Cross attended the reception to help Beverly salute the first responders.
Always humble, Beverly does not want the attention focused on her. This is about the first responders, she said, and they’re the ones that deserve the recognition.
Beverly said she feels extremely grateful and blessed to live in a country where people care enough to risk their lives and donate their time, not because they want a paycheck, but because they genuinely want to help those in need. Beverly herself is no stranger to giving back – her father supported the Red Cross and she has always donated to the Red Cross. She finds it especially rewarding to see the results of her donations in the local community.
“Give back as long as you’re able,” she said. “You never know when it’s you who’ll need help.”
Beverly is forever grateful to the brave individuals who helped that fateful night and gave her a second chance at life. Still a resident of Fulton, she now pays particular attention to fire safety. She always unplugs her toaster and only uses battery-operated candles.
In memory of all that has occurred since the fire, she keeps the teddy bear that she received from the Red Cross on her side table. She calls the bear “Red.” When asked by her granddaughter if she could have the bear, Bev replied, “No, that one is special.”
The only thing that will mean more, she said, is when there’s a national First Responders Day to honor people like the police officer who saved her life.
Photos: Beverly chats with guests at the First Responders Reception in Fulton.
Beverly with her friends from the American Red Cross: Susan Pope, Disaster Program Manager; Kevin Carpenter, Disaster Program Manager; and Danielle Hayden, Manager of the Oswego County Branch. Beverly is holding “Red,” the teddy bear that Red Cross volunteers gave her on the night she lost her home to a fire.