April 12 2023 0Comment
Fire Fighter putting out flames from a building fire

Apartment Fire Hits Too Close To Home

A Personal Experience by Chris Cox; Foreword by Dale Grant

While watching the Eagle’s unexpected loss to the Washington Commanders during the November 14, Monday Night football game, Oliver’s Fire Alarm technician, Chris Cox, was alerted by his neighbor to a fire next door. A few hours later, Chris would find himself and his family displaced, their home inhabitable from the damage caused by the neighboring fire.

Chris was kind enough to share his story with us.

Fire Smoke Alarm saves lives in building fire

Oliver FPS: Can you give us a breakdown of what happened that night?

Chris: “I was watching the Eagles play the Commanders on Monday football with my two pups. The only good thing about that night was I didn’t have watch that game! Always a silver lining. Anyways, my fiancé was fortunately out having dinner with a friend. About 10 minutes into the game, I could see an orange glow out back of the house. We have a couple neighbors with fire pits, so I thought nothing of it at first and continued watching.

About 10 minutes after I first noticed the glow, there was a knock at my door at about 9 pm. Thankfully my neighbor’s smoke detector was activated and let him know that he had a fire upstairs in his house because he was in his basement watching the game like me. When he came to the door and told me there was a fire next door, I peeked my head out to look over and could see flames at least as high as 10 feet hovering over top the house.

Of course, in any fire the response time is absolutely critical so the first thing on my mind was to grab the leashes for my two dogs and get them out of the house as soon as possible. In just the time that I spoke to my neighbor, which was less than a minute, I could see the smoke start pouring into the bathroom as I gathered the essentials and got my dogs out of the house as fast as possible.

The fire department arrived about 10 minutes later and took about two hours to put out the blaze. The house where the fire started was a total loss, the two next to it (mine included) were severely damaged, and the one behind it was also severely damaged as well. 

Fire Smoke Alarm saves lives in building fire

Oliver FPS: Working in the Fire Protection Industry, we are obviously very aware of the reality of Fires, but it’s another thing all together to experience it yourself. Can you explain how you felt at the time?

Chris: It was definitely a scary experience, and it was unfortunate that there was a lot of property damage, but at the end of the day property is replaceable. The thing I focus on is how grateful I am for all the things that went RIGHT.  Number one being that the smoke detector activated which notified my neighbor.  Two, being my neighbor who had the presence of mind to knock on my door to let me know there was a fire. Three was the fact that I was even home at the time to get my dogs out of the house as quickly as possible. Four was the response time of the fire department and their professionalism. And most importantly, number five, which is that there were NO fatalities or injuries whatsoever. And number five is completely a consequence of steps 1-4 going perfectly.”

Oliver FPS: Do you know what started the fire?

Chris: The cause of the fire, from my understanding, still has not been determined. The house where it started next door was under construction. I did speak to the landlord, and he seemed to think it was an electrical fire but at that point there had not been able to determine the root cause.”

Fire Smoke Alarm saves lives in building fire

Oliver FPS: Obviously, with the damage to your home, you couldn’t stay there. Can you tell us a little about what happened after the fire?

Chris: We were displaced for three months and had to live in a little hotel room with our two dogs in Malvern for the duration of that time. My parents and my fiancé’s parents live far away so we were fortunate enough to have renter’s insurance which allowed us to stay in a local hotel and continue working during that time.

Also, Jim Harrigan, Greg Breyer, John Lichtner, Steve Oliver and Dave Oliver were nice enough to organize and contribute to a fundraiser to help us get through the beginning of displacement before we had our insurance funds.

 It was an incredible gesture on their part, and it really helped us out in a time of need.”

Oliver FPS: What advice would you give, having gone through this ordeal.

“My essential word of advice to anyone reading this who wants to ensure that any losses (property and most importantly, lives) are kept to a minimum would be this: BE PREPARED. You can do this in a variety of ways, and I won’t be able to list them all here of course, but I will make note of the ones most impactful to our situation.

My first piece of advice would be to make the investment in renter’s and/or homeowner’s insurance. We had thousands of dollars in property damage that we fortunately recovered through renter’s insurance. Had we not had that, all would have been lost and it would have been on us to replace that.

Also, we had a separate displacement fund of 10,000 dollars to cover the cost of a hotel. Having the displacement fund allowed both of us to continue working during that time rather than forcing us to live far away with our parents and use vacation time and/or unpaid days. Renter’s insurance for us was I believe 30 dollars a month and was worth the investment a million times over.

Most importantly, MAINTAIN YOUR FIRE ALARM SYSTEM. Change the batteries in your smoke detectors. When you hear that annoying little chirp, don’t just unplug it and forget about! Seriously, you have no idea the damage you could be doing to your home and loved ones. If our neighbor’s smoke detector hadn’t alerted him, I might not be here to tell my story. So please do what you have to do to maintain your system. You won’t regret it if there is a fire, and you will have peace of mind even if there isn’t one. And as a side point, if you have pets at home or love your property and want to minimize any potential loss, I would also strongly consider installing a monitored system in your home. Yes, it is a little more expensive than just local smoke detectors, but the downside of these devices is that, if there is a fire and all you have are local smoke detectors, the fire department will not be dispatched until someone calls out. As I said earlier, the response time is absolutely critical. Had I not been there to let my dogs out when I realized there was a fire, I do not even want to think about what could have happened to them. So, if you own a residential home and leave your pets there while you’re gone, or even if you don’t have pets and want to ensure the least amount of property loss in the event of a fire, I would strongly consider the investment in a monitored system that immediately calls the fire department. I am fortunate enough to have the skill set to install a system myself and I am currently working on getting that done in our new home.

Lastly, as just a general way of coping with an overwhelming time, do whatever you can to focus on the things to be grateful for. I guarantee you there is always something. For my future wife and I, it was the incredible support of our family, friends, and coworkers during what was a difficult time. Without them the whole process would have been so much more daunting. So do whatever you can to focus on what went right in the situation and I guarantee it will make you feel a lot better.”

OliverFPS: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Chris: “Thanks for giving me the opportunity to tell my story. I hope it helps people understand the damage that fire can do and how important it is to do everything we can to prevent it.”

Three months after the fire, Chris and his fiancé, Sarah, closed on their new home in Drexel Hill. They, along with their two rambunctious golden retrievers, Kobe and Belle, are excitedly waiting for their May 20th wedding.