Friday, April 3, 2009

Fire

So I thought I should share Noah's latest obsession - anything fireman! It all started with Noah developing a mild phobia of fire a few months ago...which, if I remember correctly, started when he saw the animated Pixar short "Jack Jack Attack" (from The Incredibles). The baby on the show bursts into flames (one of his super-powers) and that understandably disturbed Noah. So it began - any time he heard or saw anything to do with fire he was immediately enthralled. To help him feel more control over his whole fear of fire I started to talk casually about various aspects of fire safety. "What do we do if..." scenarios. That worked like a charm. Before I knew it he was telling random strangers that if there's a fire, you should get out of the house and not go back in...or that if your clothes catch on fire you should stop, drop, and roll...or that if there is smoke, then you should "get low & go!" He didn't seem afraid when he'd hear mention of (or see) fire, but rather he would excitedly work his way through his list of fire safety tid-bits.

Then the next thing that fed his interest was that our friends' son had a fireman party for his 2nd birthday, which is where Noah got his hat (scroll to the bottom of this link to see pictures from that party). And lastly, what tipped things from an interest to an obsession was his introduction to Fireman Sam! It's a claymation show from the UK that I found on-demand. All that I can say is that I'm glad that this obsession didn't begin until right after Noah's birthday party, since I'm pretty sure he would have been begging me to change the party theme! He loves Fireman Sam! The show even incorporates a "firefighter" who teaches kids an element of fire safety between the two 15 minute episodes. Noah has memorized several lines from Fireman Sam and manages to incorporate them into daily life. He loves to pretend to be a fireman too - whether that's acting out scenes from the show or "saving people" with make-believe scenarios. You can bet that if you come to our house for a visit anytime soon that at some point Noah will grab you by the arm, pull you to "safety" and instruct you not to go "back in" while he sprays out the fire with whatever nearby prop that he's found. I love his little imagination. The only thing I've worried a little bit about is that out of the blue (when he's ready to delve into one of his make-believe sessions), he'll yell out "FIRE!" at the top of his lungs - while pointing in the direction of the pretend fire. So, I had to explain to him that someone might think it was a real fire sometime and get scared (or he could yell it from the other room & I'd ignore him)...so if it is a pretend fire, now he yells "pretend fire!". Works for me.

He is now convinced that he's going to be a fireman when he grows up, and he was ultimately proud of himself the other day when he went down the fire pole at the zoo playground. Like anything else that he has obsessed about, it is most interesting if he has a coordinating prop and costume. His poor fireman hat goes everywhere with him...it's worn around the house, in the car, and he even takes it to bed! When he's looking for a fire pole, it is whatever he can find - my leg, our standing lamp, the table leg.He's also convinced that his yellow parka is a fireman jacket.

The other morning (a couple of weeks ago) before I got him dressed he managed to don his hat and jacket while Fireman Sam was playing. He absolutely did not want to stop to put on pants (he just had on his undies), and it was so dang cute that I opted to snap a couple pictures and a video clip. You can't hear the show's audio very well, but it's the intro song that Noah is singing along to. Gotta love it...
video
I have to mention a bit of irony with this whole thing...I've always had a fear of fire, and have always been one of those people who really does locate the nearest exit in public places...and who thinks through where things are that I could grab on my way out of a house fire while I'm trying to fall asleep at night. However! As many of you know, this "paranoia" paid off the time Mark & I had to escape our burning apartment through thick black smoke. I grabbed my purse (with wallet & car keys) which I knew was by the bed, and Mark already knew (since we didn't have kids yet at the time) that if we ever had a fire his job was to grab our wedding album. Priorities have obviously been reassigned now.

For those of you that don't know this story (and for my own documentation), I'll tell a bit more - since I'm realizing that I don't think that I've written these details down anywhere else. The fire started in the middle of the night, around 3 am I think, and it was my first night back in my own bed after volunteering down south for 3 weeks following Hurricane Katrina. A neighbor across the complex was out smoking on his balcony (his wife wouldn't let him smoke inside) and he saw the fire start. At first he thought it was a Halloween decoration in somebody's window, but then he realized that it was spreading. He immediately called 911 and then ran over and started knocking doors himself. Mark & I barely heard the fire alarm in our building (on the bottom floor), and actually both rolled over to go back to sleep thinking that it was just a neighbor's alarm clock. So, it was actually the banging on doors that got us out of bed! We were on the top floor, and ended up being the last people out of the building.

We had no idea how severe the fire was until we opened our front door (to the shared hallway) and it was thick black smoke. The apartment directly across the hall from us was actually ablaze. We held hands, ducked low, and held our breath as we ran down the flights of stairs. As we opened the front door to the building, the tips of flames danced past us, but luckily they weren't big or hot enough yet (right there) that we couldn't run past them. Everyone in our building got out safely, and we were the only ones that had been able to grab any material possessions (and let me tell you, it was such a relief to have my wallet and basic purse necessities over those next few weeks)...also, since we had car keys Mark was able to move our car that was being covered with pieces of ash, which also conveniently made an easier place (near the hydrant) for the fire engine to park once it got there.

It felt like forever before the fire department arrived. I still have no idea how long that it actually was, but it felt like forever. It was such a strange thing to watch the huge flames make their way from apartment to apartment, to watch people's anxiety as they could do nothing but stand by and watch all of their belongings burn. The flames were eventually shooting out the windows of all three levels and it began moving across the building laterally (toward our apartment). I remember everyone just repeating, "Where are they? Where are they?" referring to the fire department. I remember wondering how far over the fire had moved on the back side of the building (that we couldn't see) where our apartment was...wondering if we already had lost everything or not. I remember thinking how ironic it was that I felt so sad about all my jewelry being stolen when we were robbed nearly a year earlier, since that was such a small portion of our possessions, and I remember clutching the wedding album being so glad that we had it...but sad to know that we could loose all of our other photographs. I should mention that we keep a back up of all of our digital photographs on an external drive, and all major legal documents, in a safety deposit box now because of this). And, I am a big advocate for people having renter's insurance now too!

I also remember how quiet that things were. You could hear somebody whimper or sniff now and then from, but very little talking. It was like the flickering of the flames, and the crackling of the fire had us all hypnotized. However, I do remember one girl talking outloud to herself (while watching her apartment thoroughly burn) saying "How am I going to get to work in a few hours...I didn't grab my keys. And all my books and homework are in there...And how do I get ahold of my roommate to tell her?...She's out of town..."

I remember that the fire kept getting hotter, so that periodically all of us had to take several steps backward away from the building until we were behind the row of unattached garages in the parking lot. I remember touching my right hand, where one could still see the scar on my hand & wrist from the horrible burn I'd received earlier that year in a grease fire (That burn was the worst pain I've ever felt. Later though the plastic surgeon had been so surprised, as was I, at how minimal the scarring ended up being after things started healing during my physical therapy...and now you can hardly even see it at all). I was so grateful to know that everybody was out of the building, and that nobody had been burned. I can't imagine how traumatic that it must be for people who know there's someone still in a building when they aren't able to go back in to get them out. And I also still cannot comprehend how burn victims who suffer burns over a large portion of their body even manage to go on living...the pain would be absolutely unbearable. So, slowly I remembered that feeling of shock, that turned to a feeling of "I wonder if"...turning into a feeling of "I'm so grateful".

The fire department finally did arrive, and even though nobody could have done anything about the fire before they got there...them arriving somehow allowed us all to step back and stop holding our breath, and to feel emotion. I remember Mark & I hugging and just sincerely saying that it was ok if all of our stuff was gone (really believing that it probably was), that we were both out ok and unharmed, so everything was fine. Without the early warning of our neighbor I'm convinced that the outcome would have likely been very different than it was.

It was one of those moments that I'm so grateful that I was able to have - to really feel what was important in life. It was strange to have that happen so soon after returning from being surrounded for 3 weeks by such severe destruction and acute loss, not only of all one's possessions but in many cases of people's friends & family members also. I remember thinking while down south that I was really having a life-changing, priority-setting experience while helping victims of Hurricane Katrina...but wondering if I would really be able to hold on to those feelings once I returned to the comforts of home...if I would remember those priorities, and the faith & optimism that so many people I met down there expressed - if it someday were me who lost all my belongings (or worse). So, I felt a strange sense of relief when I realized that the tears streaming down my cheeks weren't from the loss of our things...but that they truly were tears of gratitude. I dare say that I may not ever have appreciated, loved, or have been more grateful for Mark more than in I did at that moment. That is why I say that I'm so grateful to have had that moment. Because for me it was a defining moment to refer back to, and you don't always get a lot of those in life.

Once the fire was put out, the building was (obviously) condemned and later was torn down. We were one of the few lucky apartments that didn't lose everything. We had severe smoke damage, and without renter's insurance would have lost almost everything...but there was very little that wasn't either able to be replaced or restored. Sure it took almost a year to work everything out with our insurance company, and we had to refer back to that "defining moment" to re-define ourselves several times, but everything turned out fine.

One of our neighbors (in another building) who knew the fire had been in our building, but thought we were house sitting for somebody - called our good friends the Rhodenizers so they could let us know about the fire. When the Rhodenizers (who knew we were at home) heard about the fire, but that we also weren't anywhere outside afterwards...Josh sped down to try to find us. We were sitting in an ambulance with a neighbor (the one who had been talking out loud to herself earlier) who we were concerned about - she seemed to be going into shock, but she thought she was fine (and she'd obviously had some smoke inhalation too). So, we just wanted to make sure that someone got her whatever help she needed. When Josh got there nobody could tell him where we were (unfortunately we didn't know many of our neighbors at the time), but he finally looked in the ambulance and was relieved to find us. And we were relieved to see him.

After our neighbor was seen by an EMT, and was also able to assure us that she was fine and had a relative coming we stepped out of the ambulance. I remember running over to one of the firefighters and saying thank you, to which he seemed a bit caught off guard, and then we spent the rest of that night (and the next couple nights) at the Rhodenizers, in their front room. Later our insurance approved coverage for a hotel for a few weeks until our landlords could find another apartment to locate us to. All of our clothes had to be dry cleaned, since apparently getting fabric with soot on it wet sets the smell, we had to buy & borrow a few thing (and re-wear them a few times) to school and work. We ran across things everyday that we "needed" that had been taken from our apartment to either clean or be replaced. And I know that there were plenty of strange, quirky things that happened after the fire that I have since forgotten about (since I didn't write them down)! It was quite an experience, and quite a process. And, even though I continue to be so grateful that everyone involved in our fire was ok...whenever I hear about a house or apartment fire on the news, I really feel for those people.

So! Make sure you have a smoke alarm on every floor (we had to install one downstairs when we moved into the house we're in now), check your alarm's batteries, and make sure you (and your kids, if you have them) know your fire escape plan. And, as Noah would say..."Practice fire safety every day!"

So much for this being a short post with a lighter topic! It would have been if it had ended where it was supposed to...after the video clip! Oh well.

3 comments:

kathy said...

I'm so glad that Noah's feeling more prepared for fires.

When I was little, the firemen who visited our school for an assembly told us that we should roll out of bed onto the floor if there was a fire, so we could crawl to safety. I insisted that my mom let me sleep on the floor from that day on—one step already taken care of.

She had to take me to the fire department after a week or to show me around, and get a fireman to talk me into sleeping in my bed. He let me sit in the fire truck and talked to me about other ways that I could be ready for a fire.

There was something about feeling prepared that made me not scared. You're a good mom for helping Noah to feel that way.

Jana said...

I loved your post.Especially little Fireman Noah.I rememaber how you let me know about the fire.You called me at work and asked me about a recipe.Then you said, "Mom, we've been in a fire.Our apartment burned down."(!)I felt so bad you were so far away.(and you'd had the adoption of a baby fall through so recently and the room was all set up with a crib and clothes and things that were damaged!) I was so sad, but as you said so appreciative you were ok and had each other.

So three cheers or more for anyone pro-fireman and fire safety! We'll have fun this summer when we take Noah to meet Rachel's Fireman Chris and see his fire station and trucks!

Rhodenizer Family said...

Oh Holly! I remember that night!! When Sylwia called to see if you guys were at our house and that the building was on fire...I don't think I've ever been so scared! When we couldn't get you on you cells...that was the longest night just sitting waiting for Josh to call and give me an update! I'm SO SO SO greatful that it ended "ok". Thank goodness for smokers on the balcony!

P.S. Noah IS very adorable!