For over a decade, I was a local news reporter. I used to arrive on the scene of a fire and watch the firefighters battle the blaze, gathering information along the way. At no time during those years did I ever consider that I would experience a fire at my own house. Now I know what it feels like.
My family and I were on vacation in Strasburg enjoying the railroad festivities surrounding a visit from one of the world’s most famous trains, Thomas the Tank Engine. My grandson, Timmy, was enjoying the ride and we were enjoying waving at him. My daughter and her family decided to go find something to eat and shortly after that my wife’s father and sister followed, but they came back in a hurry.
When seeing my sister-in-law Vicki coming running at us, I knew something bad had happened. My wife and I both thought our daughter and her family had been in an accident. Vicki, however, said, “Your house is on fire.”
It may be hard to believe, but when we heard that, we were both relieved. It was just our house, not our kids. That attitude sustained us as we quickly packed and headed home.
On our trip back, we both went through a litany of things we thought might have caused the fire. Before we left on vacation, we did several walk-throughs to make sure everything was turned off and the house was secure. Our youngest son, Josh, was to join us in Lancaster later, so he would check on the house for a couple of days and then friends would take over.
Despite our best efforts, we drew a blank. Josh kept us informed from the scene during our four-hour drive back. At one point, he told us the fire began in the garage. That started our speculation all over again.
When we arrived, most of the fire trucks were gone except for Sykesville. The fire marshal was digging through what was left of the garage and it was clear to us that the house was a total loss.
As I was answering the fire marshal’s questions, I glanced up and saw a group of people standing in the yard and instantly recognized them as members of my church. They had come with my son Josh straight from services. I cannot tell you how comforting that was for Cindy and me as we looked over what was left of our 30-year home.
As a radio reporter, you get the facts and a couple of interviews and then you air the story, but this experience has taught me that I didn’t get the whole story. I missed the human element.
From the fire marshal to the firefighters, we experienced nothing but kindness and support. My longtime colleague Marianne Konior switched hats and provided help through the American Red Cross. My church family provided food and necessities.
Support and encouragement came from all directions, from our insurance company to family, friends, acquaintances, and people we didn’t even know.
As much as we like to kid ourselves about living in Hicksville, deep down inside we know this is a great area to live, one that comes together when people are in need. We are blessed with highly-trained professionals, most of them volunteers, who risk their lives for their neighbors.
We don’t live in a rich area, but when we all give a little it adds up to a lot and we’ve done that over and over again. My church board set up a fund for us to help pay our expenses that the insurance doesn’t cover, but Cindy and I have agreed that we want to share what we receive with the volunteer fire departments who responded.
I know we have a long road ahead. We want to rebuild because we love Big Soldier, the people around us, and the other communities we call home. That could take up to nine months, so for now we’re living with Cindy’s dad not too far from what is left of our house.
Things can be replaced, buildings can be rebuilt, but this old reporter has learned that it is the people who make the story.
Big Bang Theory star Johnny Galecki, who recently lost his home in a fire in California, summed it up best when he said, “It’s never the structures that create a community – it’s the people.”