My husband is a firefighter of 15 years. His father and his grandfather were firefighters as well. He has seen it all, and we always did our best to ensure we were safe. Some might say we were a bit neurotic about fire safety, performing fire drills with the kids. That didn't protect us from experiencing a house fire.
I was pregnant at the time, and my husband wasn't home because he was on a fire call. I awoke to a strange smell. I stood up, determined to figure out the source of the smell. As I walked out of my bedroom, I realized the house was filled with smoke. Immediately, I reacted as I heard an explosion in my basement.
I woke up my oldest kids. I made them grab their comforters because it was November and cold outside. I grabbed my toddler and his blanket. With the dogs hot on my heels, we ran out of the house as I called 911. I put the kids and dogs into our minivan, turning on the heat.
Related: Does Your Family Have a Fire Plan?
I can only imagine the panic my husband felt as he was called out to a second house fire - to his own house. He called me hysterically as they drove quickly to our house. I ensured him the kids and I were safe.
They arrived, and we learned that our dehumidifier caught on fire. The internal parts combusted, which was the explosion I had heard. The fire had started to spread to other items in our basement. Due to the firefighters' quick arrival, our house was fine, but the experience was just beginning.
Here's what I didn't expect:
1. Smoke Does Damage
I had no idea that smoke does so much damage. Our dishes were caked with soot. All of our mattresses and couches were so heavily scented, so we had to toss them. Everything smelled like smoke. I assumed that we could clean up ourselves, but I was wrong.
2. You Wake Up and Panic
After surviving a house fire, I wake up in a panic at times. I think I smell that smell again. Now we have an infant, and I panic at the idea of helping four kids escape. I relive the moments often. Sometimes, I might think I smell the fire scent again, or my husband comes home from another fire with that scent on his clothes. It sends my mind scrambling.
Related: What You Fear Finds You: How to Cope With Anxiety
3. Leaving the House Can Be Hard
There are times when I don't want to leave the house. I'm afraid I missed something. What if I didn't turn off my hair straightener? What if I bumped a burner on the stove? What if I left a candle burning? As I drive down the road, my worries drive me insane. There are times when it is so much easier to stay home because I don't feel so afraid that I will come home to a house fire.
4. The Restoration Process Takes Forever
Dealing with restoration and insurance companies takes forever. Getting back into your home, if possible, is your biggest priority. We wanted to be home. Yet, we aren't their biggest priority. Everything seems to move at a snail's pace, and there are times when you scream and cry because you are so frustrated.
5. You Don't Think about Taking Items
Everyone says things like they'll take photo albums out during a house fire. No, chances are you won't. Smoke kills you. The longer you stay in a burning house without proper gear, the more smoke your lungs inhale. Those photo albums or important documents aren't worth your life.
6. The Outreach is Overwhelming
Lastly, the outreach from people, including strangers, is overwhelming and heartwarming. The morning after the fire, I laid on my in-law's couch and wept. I was so thankful my kids were fine. I also couldn't believe the outreach from friends and family. My kids had clean clothes and shoes. My PayPal account was filling with money. People were lining up to help feed us.
Don't ever think that your efforts to help another who experiences a house fire, even if it's delivered pizza, are overlooked. They are appreciated and remembered. Without others, our experience would've been much worse.