Firefighter, Dispatcher Take Call to Fire at Own Home

By Rachel Martin


8 photos

November 20, 2011 Updated Nov 20, 2011 at 7:26 PM EDT

COLUMBIA CITY, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – A Columbia City family is recovering after a fire broke out at their home Thursday night.

This year, Thanksgiving will mean more than ever to the Smith family, as they piece back together a life that got burnt.

“It will be a Thanksgiving to remember,” said Julie Smith. “We’re thankful for our boys. That’s the biggest thing.”

Around 11 Thursday night, Julie, a 911 dispatcher for Whitley County, was about to take her break and meet her husband, Ken, a Columbia City Police officer and volunteer firefighter in Thorncreek Township. Before leaving, she took a call about a house fire. As she gathered details, she soon realized she was talking to her son Wayne, 15, about a fire at their home.

“I didn’t really realize it was my son,” said Julie wiping away tears. “It didn’t really hit me until he said he was getting Colin out the house.”

“I had no clue I’d be talking to her, but I was hoping I would,” Wayne said. “It was fate I guess.”

Wayne and his 8-year-old brother, Colin, were at home sleeping when the smoke detector suddenly went off.

“I didn’t really know what was going on. I thought the batteries needed changed,” Wayne said. “And then I went downstairs and I could see this glow coming from my parent’s bed.”

Wayne said he didn’t think, he just grabbed his little brother and followed the fire safety plan his parents taught him growing up.

“I got him out. He was the most important thing to get out and that’s all that matters,” Wayne said.

Ken had just gotten off-duty when he heard the call through the police scanner. He was on his way to assist when he heard the surprising information.

“When they gave the address, it was my own address,” Ken said. “And then just every fear, every nightmare, every emotion just rushed through my head.”

Ken said he changed out of his CCPD uniform into his firefighting gear, but was told battling a fire in his own home would be too stressful. But he did go into the blaze and rescue two of the family’s three cats.

The Smiths suspect an electrical problem caused the fire. The master wing of the house, including bedroom, bathroom, and walk-in closet, was completely singed in the fire. Severe smoke damage ruined the rest of the house. Currently the Smith’s are staying in their neighbor’s guest home. For the next four months they will be splitting their time between there and Ken’s parent’s house while their home is restored.

Ken said everything has to be replaced. The dry wall must be torn out of the house and all the furniture and appliances must be thrown away. “Pretty much nothing survived,” Ken said.

Ken is an advocate of fire safety. He stressed that every family should create and practice a fire safety plan, and check their smoke detectors regularly. He said the smoke detectors saved his sons’ lives.

“I’m positive of that, I know that’s true,” Ken said. “The smoke was so bad, the fire grew so fast. They wouldn’t have gotten out if it wasn’t for the smoke detectors.”

In the meantime, the Smiths said they’ve been humbled by the outpouring of support from their community.

“Our phones have been ringing off the hook. People have left messages. They’ll say, ‘Hey if you need anything let me know.’ Some of them I don’t even know who they are,” Julie said.

“My friends, family, people I don’t even know have been there for us,” Ken said while fighting back tears. “People giving money out of their own pocket to me saying, ‘Here, your family needs it. Take care of them.’ We can’t say thank you enough.”

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