Things We Gained in the Fire

14 Dec

Have you ever had a fire in your home? Probably not. Fire happens to other people. Not to you.

Fire happened to me. And for a multitude of reasons and strokes of luck and fate, I was home and no one was hurt. But still. I did not expect to find the entire second floor of my home filled with smoke. I did not expect to find my bathroom wall in flames. I did not expect to find the need to call 911.  And yet all that happened in a matter of minutes.

Do you have smoke alarms? You should. Do you have fire extinguishers? You should. You should also make sure that they have not expired because otherwise, they’re just taking up precious space in your home in which you could store something that will help you should your house catch fire. And while we are on the subject, you should also make sure they are “ABC” fire extinguishers for all levels and kinds of fires. I did not expect to gain this type of education.

We have smoke alarms. Ironically, for a few weeks they were without batteries (also a no no) that my husband only recently replaced. While previously I thought of smoke alarms as annoyances, this one happened to save our house and possibly, our lives, as I never even smelled that smoke filling up the second floor of my home.

We also have fire extinguishers on every floor but I did not use them to try to put out the fire because I estimated I would first have to read the instructions label and I just did not have the time to do that. I knew the fire would not wait for me to figure out how to kill it and it was already speedily climbing up the wall and charring surfaces on adjacent walls. Do you know how to use your fire extinguishers? You should. You pull the pin and shoot.

Do you have a fire drill in place? A family plan? You should. We did not. I recalled seeing some kind of program that advised that in an emergency, you must direct specific people to carry out certain tasks. You cannot merely say “someone call 911” because someone may never get around to it. I told my son, Eli, to call 911, and I told my son, Ben, to get me a bucket.

My sweet friend, Stacey, has been sending me birthday gifts every year since college. Typically, they arrive on my birthday or the day before. This year, a tin of cookies showed up on my doorstep about 10 days early. Thank goodness. I used that tin to put out the fire.

I did not think about electrocution although I surmised the fire was electrical. I thought about my home. I thought about the place we love, the roof that shelters us, the kitchen and den and dining room in which we have shared so many wonderful holidays and memories, the deck where we love to entertain, the couch on which we gather to watch old home videos, and the bedrooms we retire to at the end of the day. I thought about this space that we love and that loves us and that this recent slight betrayal was going to end right now with me and several cookie tins full of water. I thought that if I did not act immediately, my house was going to burn down along with beloved irreplaceable photographs, ticket stubs from games my sons attended with their father and uncle, knitting needles owned by my adored Aunt Sandy, dirt memorialized from Yankee Stadium for Derek Jeter’s 3000th home run, a needlepoint of the alphabet my mother made for my sons, an old chenille cardigan that my beautiful late grandma used to wear, my son’s cherished stuffed Bunny, Cocky Pancho, my wedding band, and the dress I plan to wear to my sons’ b’nai mitzvah in April. I thought we could lose our history.

Then again, maybe I did not think at all. Maybe I just reacted out of instinct because you when you see flames threatening to destroy something you love, you just want to extinguish them. 911 instructed all of us to leave the house immediately. I sent my sons outside and I went back up the stairs. The fire was still contained to one wall which I took as a good sign. I wondered whether it was a bad idea to try to drown an electrical fire and whether I might short out my entire house. I wondered whether the fire could spread fast enough to trap me in my own bathroom. I also wondered where the towel rod went and if I was doing all the wrong things. I probably was. Perhaps I should have immediately left my home. Instead, I filled and refilled the tin with water and threw it at the fire until I could see no more flames. And then, wondering what might be lurking behind the wall, I threw a few more tins of water, dampening the area as much as possible just in case. And then I ran out the door in my socks.

Only then, while standing in our socks on the driveway waiting to hear the relief of sirens, did one son start to cry while the other one dribbled a basketball. But I told him about how lucky we are, about how we lost nothing we really cared about, and about the death of that goddamn fire. And then, after seeing many firemen and firewomen, and several police officers in and out of my home, we went out for dinner. Because life goes on.

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The fire happened the first night of Hanukkah. I never lit my menorah that night. Instead, we were evacuated from our home. The only thing I really worried that we might have lost in that fire – our sense of security – has been restored. And what we gained, hopefully reclaimed perspective, appreciation for all that we have, and gratitude for just how lucky we are, is worth much more.

Last night, on the final night of Hanukkah, we lit our menorah and slept soundly under the roof we love.

Shehecheyanu.

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4 Responses to “Things We Gained in the Fire”

  1. bensbitterblog December 14, 2015 at 11:24 pm #

    That sounds so scary. I’ve seen those new hoverboard things and how they catch on fire. Sounds like they need to recall those things because something like that could happen to anyone. Glad that you made it out of the fire and that you are able to celebrate Hanukkah.

    • Lisa Goodwin December 15, 2015 at 12:10 am #

      Thank you so much! It was not a hoverboard.

  2. Jon December 15, 2015 at 12:19 am #

    glad to hear all were safe. Although your tips about fire extinguishers and smoke detectors are good What you did was absolutely the wrong thing. Get out and stay out. You are endangering others by extolling your decision to stay and fill a tin with water and throw it on an electrical fire. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

    • Lisa Goodwin December 15, 2015 at 12:43 am #

      Thank you. I don’t know that I extolled my decision to fight that fire. In fact, the safest option would certainly have been to leave the house. The reason it worked for me is because I was standing across a room, on a dry floor, and throwing it at the wall with no “stream” to connect us which could have caused electrocution. Believe me, I have spoken with tons of fire experts in the past week. I know I am very lucky.

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