The first thing I remember was the smell of acrid smoke. I ran upstairs and the significant amount of smoke that collected in the upper hallway confirmed there must be fire. Because I was home alone after high school, it was up to me to get help. I ran to the phone and called the fire department. Even in those first few moments, fear grabbed me like an intruder who had broken in when no one was looking. I ran out of the house and waited for help. The police car was the first emergency vehicle to arrive. When the officer shined a spotlight on the roof, we could see smoke pouring out of the roof like steam from a steam plant.
Our small town responded with all three fire trucks. They soon realized it wasn’t enough and activated their mutual aid pact with neighboring communities. Nine fire trucks from four nearby cities joined their rescue efforts.
Our house was an old 1920’s structure and because of the way some insulation had been blown into the attic, the fire department had a difficult time containing fire. At the height of the blaze, flames flared out of several windows and the fire had broken through the roof. As I recall the fire department took almost three hours to put out the fire.
After the fire was out I went with my parents to survey the damage. If we hadn’t seen the black charring everywhere, we might have thought a flood had rushed through the house because everything was soaked. Even the basement had several inches of water. Plaster walls were ruined and carpet was a complete mess. What took a few hours to destroy took us out of our house for four months while the extensive repairs were completed.
In the 1960’s fire and water restoration had not reached the sophisticated levels we have today. As a result my parents struggled with contractor after contractor to complete the work. One person repaired the fire damage and completed the major carpentry work. Someone else handled the plaster repair. Still another did the painting. Then the carpet company came in to replace carpet. Another company had to clean the furniture and the drapes. The parade of companies and workers seemed endless. Recovery was a nightmare even though insurance covered the cost. It required my mother to become a full-time manager because my dad worked full time and could only support the day to day process part-time.
I experienced firsthand what an unexpected disaster does when it takes away your home. I will never forget the daily pain and fatigue it caused. That’s why I have decided to help other families reduce the trauma such events cause by becoming a part of a Service Team of Professions in Coeur d’Alene called STOP. I want to help STOP unnecessary angst as people work through large or small disasters by connecting them to one group of professional in a way that limits the disruption to their property and their lives. I wish my parents could have made one call to a company that would have supervised the restoration of our home. It would have eliminated so much frustration I know they endured. In 1960 there weren’t many options for damage restoration. Today we have STOP. While I hope you never face destructive damage to your home from a fire, flood, or other disaster; STOP will be there to help you if you do.