Tuesday, October 9

Resilience for the Journey: A Fire Victim’s Story

During the month of October, we turn our focus to home fire prevention and how your family can be prepared in the event of a fire. The American Red Cross is helping families and businesses learn how to protect themselves and others from fires in observance of National Fire Prevention Week. Fires can spread very quickly, so everyone at home, school and work should know what to do when they hear the sound of a smoke alarm.

But for some people, a smoke alarm just isn't enough. House fires can happen to anyone, anywhere—at anytime. Read on to discover how the young Anderson family fought back—against all odds— to rebuild after a house fire completely demolished their newly-built dream home.

Resilience for the Journey: A Fire Victim’s Story

By: Jamie Black

As I glance down upon the picture of the Anderson family, I would have never guessed they lost everything they own in a house fire. From Landry’s rosy cheeks and giggling grin to Grace’s carefree smile and long-blonde hair blowing in the early morning breeze, I see a family portraying happiness and peace. But as I look to the photo in their hands and see the devastation left behind from the fire, I realize their smiles are only skin deep. But if you look closely, there is a happiness that exudes from within them—an unwavering force which will stand the test of time as they rise up from the ashes.

“Bad things can happen to good people; anytime, anywhere. You have to be prepared.”

These cautionary words from fire victim, Sherri Anderson ring true with every family who has ever fallen victim to the horrors of a house fire. You can perform routine smoke detector checks and chimney inspections, but that may not be enough to keep your family safe from the devastation of a blazing fire. It may not even be enough to save your brand new dream house from crumbling to the ground, as Ben and Sherri Anderson would soon discover.

With his wife at work on a Saturday, Ben Anderson was preparing breakfast for his children on a blistery-cold Saturday morning in February. After breakfast, they would get ready for a trip into town to meet a Craig’s List buyer at 10am. Ben called to push back the meeting time to 1pm, but the buyer insisted on keeping the meeting at 10am. Agreeing to the original meeting time, Ben Anderson unknowingly saved his children’s lives. As he and the kids were running errands in town, Ben gets a voicemail from his neighbor—frantic words and sheer panic in her voice; his house was on fire! Returning from the grocery with sleepy children in the backseat, Ben Anderson pulled into his driveway and could not believe the gruesome sight before him—his dream house, which he had built from his own sweat and tears, was blazing out of control. As he stood motionless in front of his home, he saw everything he ever worked for—everything he ever knew, be ripped out from underneath him. He was helpless.

Coming back to reality, Ben turned around to see his children were awake and had just realized what had happened. Amongst the screaming and tears, he knew he had to get his children out of there—to shield them from the fear and pain of witnessing the only safe place they knew being destroyed right before their eyes. Thankfully neighbors came and rushed the children away, as Ben was left to watch the horror movie unfold.

Even as the brave firefighters tried to keep the blaze under control, Ben knew in his heart that his home was gone. Every last memory that his family had in their once safe and peaceful dwelling place was lost. As the wind hurled thick black clouds across the sky and frenzied flames tore the house apart, Ben Anderson wept for his home—and for everything it stood for.

“We see the faces of
families on the news
who have lost everything
in a disaster.
All that is
left is tragedy. Today,
we are
the face of tragedy…”

After Sherri had gotten the news at work that her house was on fire, she burst into tears in the hospital break room. She dreaded the drive home and started to get knots in her stomach as she thought of the destruction that awaited her. She was terrified and shaking, as she drove home to the sight of firemen and their trucks scattered across her front yard. She watched in horror as everything that defined her family—ornaments, baby footprints, first-locks of hair, disappeared before her eyes. Wiping tears from her eyes, she got out of her car to stand beside her husband. Watching their lives crumble before them, a wave of relief finally struck the young parents—everyone was safe and together. Crossing to the neighbor’s yard, Sherri swept her children into her arms and held them close as they cried together, reunited as a family.

After Sherri sent the children away with her family, she returned to the house with Ben and saw the American Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle pull up alongside their house. For the first time that day, the Andersons saw hope.

After meeting with the Single-Family Disaster volunteers, they were offered a hotel room for their family and an assistance card to buy food and clothes. Declining their offer for support, Ben thanked the team for their support and reassured them he would be fine for now. As the team drove off, Ben was left alone with the ashes of his life lying at his feet. Surrounded by the relentless winter wind, he held himself tight as he choked back his tears. Why him? Why his family?

As the burden of his loss settled into his soul, Ben had reached his wits-end. Then out of nowhere, a stranger pulled into his driveway. The man explained that he passed the Anderson’s home coming home from work each day and wanted to help them out. With that, generosity and support came pouring into the Anderson’s lives; and they soon realized how much they really needed it.

“Anything you need-
anytime, night or day.
You let us know.”

Reflecting on his life-changing experience, Ben reminds others like him, “You need help. You need the community.” When I asked him what emotions his family had about the fire, he mentioned that his wife was worried she would not be able to learn anything from their experience—except that it was a horrible tragedy. But he realized they saw a true goodness in people that made them proud to be Hoosiers, and Americans.

As we sat in the interview room, Ben played back all the voicemails from that day. I watched him listen intently to each message, as if he wanted to reach out and thank each person as they spoke. With tears streaming down his cheeks, we listened on. Even though we could have stopped anywhere along the tape, we both sat listening to the reassuring voices of his family, friends and even complete strangers. I was amazed by the love of these humble servants, who would have given Ben and his family anything they needed, without hesitation. St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, other community churches, co-workers at Lutheran Hospital and Fox Contractors Corp., State Farm agents Mike and Gail Gibson, Growing Place Preschool in Huntington and countless other community members were among the many who gave whole-heartedly to the Anderson Family through monetary donations, clothing donations and both physical and mental support. From the American Red Cross support to the abundance of prayers, the family would like to thank all who supported them on their journey to recovery.

“The story of phoenix tells of a magnificent bird, that when it comes to the end of its lifetime, it returns to its nest and explodes into flames. Out of the ashes, itsoffspring arises to grow andsoar to new heights.”

As the Andersons arise amidst the carnage of their former home, they soar to new heights as they build another home—right on top of the first. Even though the family is determined to pay back all those who helped them, what they realize now is some gifts are priceless. The gift of family, friends and neighbors who would dedicate themselves to helping a family in need is the most wonderful gift the Andersons could have ever asked for—for the love of a selfless servant is the most beautiful gift humanity can bestow upon their neighbor.

"God has shown his compassion as
  there was no loss of life, and He
  will Bless you beyond your wildest

Sherri's grandfather's words would help carry
them through it all and allow them to accept overflowing support
and numerous blessings from
people throughout the community.

We wish them the best in the years to come, as their story spreads to others who have and will be affected by house fires. May all victims find their inner strength to help them rise above their challenges; and like the Andersons, inspire others to be resilient in the face of hardship.