Saturday, March 1, 2008

Venturing Forth Into Controversy

Although I previously stated I wouldn't delve into a controversial topic, I've decided that I'd like to donate my authorship to advocate for pregnant women, mothers, children, families, and animals. I feel strongly about these topics, and I couldn't imagine not writing about them even during my early career. While the slice-of-life genre does yield a readership, it doesn't yield a sense of accomplishment in so much as affecting changes in the world to create a more harmonious environment for others.

Fiery Valentine's Terror

Thursday night around 9PM, I sat on the couch in front of my laptop while the kids played and Brian talked business with people. I heard a faint beeping outside, smelled smoke, then heard a loud pop. My first thought -- some idiot kids were setting off fireworks. I peeked out of my living room blinds and saw the reflection of a roaring fire coming from my next-door neighbor’s bedroom patio door. I froze in fear and denial before turning my head to confirm the raging horror transpiring next-door. I could see it was spreading fast. I shouted to Brian, “get the kids, there’s a fire, we have to leave now!” as I scooped my precious baby daughter off the floor and herding my son down from his chair. I grabbed the cordless phone, ran out of the apartment with my children and husband, and called 911. I frantically pleaded with the 911 dispatcher to get help as soon as possible while my son and I cried hysterically. My daughter quietly looked on, and my husband tried to chase the pets out before grabbing our fire extinguisher. The 911 dispatch yelled at me to calm down – she claimed I was upsetting my children. I certainly hope she never experiences such a horrifying situation in her life because she would learn that you cannot possibly remain calm when all you’ve ever worked for is about to go up in flames. Brian and some other neighbors ran around to the back of the building to try and stop the fire before the Gainesville Fire Rescue arrived. From my view, I could see the fire spreading faster and faster. I panicked, I begged for the 911 dispatcher to get the GFR out there quickly before the fire spread to my apartment. A man named Alton tried to get my cats and puppy out the apartment – he got the puppy, but he couldn’t find the cats before a Gainesville police officer arrived and told everyone to stay out of the building. I would estimate it took about 5 minutes for the GFR to arrive on scene. Smoke billowed above the apartment building, embers spewing from the fiery roof. Some wonderful neighbors got me and the kids wrapped up into blankets and jackets while letting Brian and I call family and friends for assistance.

We went inside a neighbor’s apartment to wait for the fire rescuers to extinguish the fire. Brian realized that he had inhaled far too much smoke while trying to help put out the fire – he had a severe asthma attack. A neighbor escorted him to an ambulance for treatment where our puppy was also receiving treatment for smoke inhalation. I called my friend Karen to get her help. The wonderful people who let us into their apartment offered comfort in the form of clothing for my daughter – who was in nothing but a diaper as she had been awaiting bath time – as well as snacks for my son and blankets for all of us. I found out that Brian needed medical assistance at the hospital and retrieved the puppy. Of course, the EMTs neglected to tell me which hospital they were taking him to. Once Karen arrived, we took the kids to find out where Brian went and to follow him. We were stopped by a reporter and the front office staff. American Red Cross collected all the residents of the building – who, by the way, were NOT mostly students as some incorrect sources might have you believe – to fill out paperwork and receive assistance and lodging. Rob’s idea of clearing the tension was farting loudly in front of everyone. I heard someone say, “at least he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.” Once I finished getting the paperwork done with Laura Mager of the Red Cross, Karen brought us to the Shands at UF emergency room. As usual, the ER was packed, the staff was rude sans for one shining gem named Jay, and Brian was absolutely frustrated at his situation. Apparently, he had two people attempt to start IV fluids – a fire fighter and an EMT. The first try Brian’s veins were blown, the second was not much better. He discharged himself against medical advice for two reasons: one, he felt he was needed with his family; two, he couldn’t tolerate the inconsiderate staff any longer. Of course, Shands at UF’s ER deserves their own special topic for a later date.

Karen drove us to the Days Inn on SW 13th Street, where we almost couldn’t stay because the American Red Cross didn’t ask for pet rooms. Luckily the manager allowed us to bring Bebop Jr. with us. We called more relatives and my boss before sleeping for a few hours. The Days Inn needed the rooms back by 11AM, so Karen returned the next morning to help us get some necessities and get settled in our apartment complex’s front office. We waited for word on where we would go and if we could get our belongings. I count my blessings that the Gainesville Fire Rescue prevented the fire from spreading to our apartment because everything inside was perfectly fine asides from some smoke soot and a little water on the kitchen floor. We found our cats alive and well, thankfully. The front office staff got us into another apartment Friday afternoon while Gator Moving came to move our belongings at no charge to us. Because no two bedroom/ two bathroom apartments were available, we got a wonderful three bedroom/ two and a half bathroom townhouse at the same rent price. Although I’m not pleased about having stairs with my increasingly mobile baby girl, I know we’ll be able to manage this transition. It’s been quite hectic moving at a time like this, but I’m infinitely grateful for my caring family, friends, co-workers, superiors, and apartment complex. We’ve received rides from the property manager himself, gotten food and clothing, and have been comforted in such a terrible time.

By the end of the day on Friday, we learned what caused the fire. Early investigations found that someone had dropped rose petals and lit candles. Whoever did so left our next-door neighboring apartment. They had two cats, who more than likely knocked over a candle – or more. The poor cats didn’t survive. All of this stress could have been avoided if a little commonsense had been exercised. Sadly, my neighbors learned their lesson by losing everything and their two cats. I hear some people may want to sue them, but I know I could not possibly be involved in such a pursuit. While I have been inconvenienced and will be losing pay, I have my family and belongings. They lost everything. As for myself, I’m certain I’m suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I never wish to witness such a disaster again. The image of the burning apartment will forever ingrain itself into my mind.