Let me preface this with: we are so thankful to God beyond words for our safety and the safety of our neighbors.
I'll take you to back first and then let you know what we should have done differently and preventatively...
It's Friday night, around 10pm, I am lying in bed and I had fallen asleep watching TV while Jon Paul was in the kitchen/dining room working on his homework. This is a little hazy because I was asleep, but someway-somehow in my state of sleep I called on Jon Paul. I don't remember this, but he said that I sounded alarmed and pointed him towards the bathroom. On my part of what I can remember the reason I called to him is because I saw glowing in our bathroom. I was half asleep/half awake, so I wasn't sure if what I was seeing was a dream or real life, but thank God that when I said something Jon Paul responded right away. He went into the bathroom and I heard him panicked telling me something, I'm not sure what, so I walked over to the bathroom and that's when I saw fire coming from our bathroom ceiling spilling into the small room. I was AWAKE.
I ran into our dining room closet and grabbed buckets (that I keep for flowers) filled one about 2 inches with water, stuck another one under the sink while I ran to bathroom. I threw the tiny bit of water I had collected into the flame, and it was really sad (and now pretty funny looking back at it) because of course it didn't do anything.
Jon Paul is my hero because he totally sprang into action. He was in the bathroom with the fire, he turned on the shower and luckily we have a removable shower head so he was spraying everything down. Our shower curtains had caught fire so he removed the bar and threw the curtains into the tub. As he was watering everything down he called for me to open the window and call 911. At this point our whole apartment was filling with smoke. While I was on the phone with 911 Jon Paul told me that the fire was out, but the operator still passed me along to the Fire Department. The Fire Dept told me that they were on their way and that it was important to get everyone out of the building because since it was our bathroom fan that caught fire, there may be fire trapped in the ceiling or walls.
While Jon Paul continued to spray water into the fan and ceiling (all the while coughing and tearing becuase of the smoke of the melting plastic curtains) I went out into the hall to start knocking on doors with Pierre in my arms. The building's alarm system finally kicked in and a neighbor at the end of the hall ran out of his apartment and when he saw smoke he totally went into fight mode. He grabbed the fire extinguisher in the hall way (why didn't we think of that???) and ran towards me frantically knocking on all the hallway doors as he did. When he got to me I told him that the fire was out but we still needed to leave the building. We both began knocking on our neighbors' doors and finally people began coming out.
I went back into the apartment to let Jon Paul know that the Fire Dept was on their way and that we needed to leave. We grabbed our coats and joined our sparse group of neighbors outside (in 20° weather!) while we waited. About a minute later the fire truck arrived and firemen began spilling into our tiny studio (under different circumstances, this sounds like a dream come true).
Jon Paul and I went to our window, which is big, ground level, and has full view of our studio, and we watched in horror as they completely gutted our bathroom. They ripped the bathroom fan out of the ceiling and made a huge hole in the ceiling and along the wall. When we thought it couldn't get worse, they ran in with their giant fireman hose (again, under different circumstances!)-remember, our studio is really small, and the bathroom is so tiny, so it's pretty comical to think of that giant hose in our teeny bathroom-and sprayed into the ceiling and into the wall, which flooded our bathroom.
They then broke into the apartment directly above us to make sure there were no flames or smoke coming up through their floor. They later told us they considered making a hole in their floor, but everything seemed fine, so they held off (phew!!-imagine that surprise when the neighbors got home).
The firemen then deemed their job finished and a city inspector came to determine the damage and declared our home un-habitable or now, so did we have anywhere else to go? Uhhh, NO. We're from California, sir. We haven't made our way into the hearts of any Bostonians yet, but we're working on it!
Fastforward, they were able to find a hotel with a reasonable rate that they give to situations like this (I am currently writing this from our home for the next... 6 days? at the Holiday Inn). contractor will probably not be able to look at our home until Monday, and from there who knows how long it will take to fix the damages and turn our utilities back on. The Red Cross gave us a visit around 1 am to check on us, let us know about resources that are available to us, and generously gave us a pre-paid credit card to help us with the expenses we will accrue for the next few days.
Now, in complete seriousness, we got THE best possible end of the stick for a situation like this, and we are so so so thankful. God was really watching out for us, and we are so humbled. Fires have caused people to lose their entire home, possessions, but absolute worst of all, a loved one(s) or pet(s). We are counting our blessings and my heart truly goes out to anybody who has experienced this in a more serious matter. This for us, at worst, is an inconvinience, but to others it is a complete heartbreak-our prayers and deepest sympathy go out to them.
The thank yous are endless here. To our neighbors who offered us help and good wishes. The 911 system in Boston that answered our call in SECONDS, which is amazing. The fire department who arrived quickly and worked fast to make sure everyone was safe and the building was secure. The Somerville city workers who came to check on our home and found us a place to stay. And lastly, the Red Cross volunteers, yes volunteers, who gave their time to come and see us at 1 am to give us guidance. And the financial support we received is through donors of the Red Cross. We had no idea that this organization is made up of 90% volunteers and a huge percentage of their funds come from donors. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
My final and biggest thank you is to my husband who made this situation as least awful as it could have been. Because he was quick enough, brave enough, and fearless enough to literally fight fire to protect us and our home. I've got a good, good man by my side and I am so thankful.
Now, the tips:
one as it turns out, it is not uncommon for house fires to be started because of bathroom fans. The best and smartest thing you can do is:
Do not run your fan often. Use only as needed after a shower, about 20 min max, and then turn it off. Using it too often can cause it to overheat. Absolutely make sure it is off when you leave your home.
Clean your fans! Its use it to suck moisture out of the bathroom, so in turn it sucks up lint in the air which collects in the fan. Lint is is very flammable, so if it gets too hot, it will ignite. You can clean your fan by removing the cover and using a vacuum handle to clear lint off the cover. Then with the same vacuum handle go through and clear any build up in the fan. Please try and do this every 6 months!
If you have an old fan, as a homeowner, replace it! and as a renter, urge your landlord to have it checked by an electrician and if it is not suitable, have them replace it!!
two as I am sure you can imagine, Jon Paul and I went through the "what if??" list when this was over. The biggest and absolute scariest "what if" scenario for us was is if Jon Paul and I weren't home and Pierre was home alone during this fire. From the obvious above prevention, you're not in control of your neighbors and if an emergency were to happen, you should be prepared. If you have a pet, be sure to make a sign and place it on your front door and/or reachable windows. It should say something along the lines of:
"In case of emergency, I have x pet(s) in my home."
At the very least do that. In my case, I will have clear instructions urging my neighbor, or whoever, to please break in my door or window to get my pet out safely.
three have the right gear! Have a smoke detector that works!! (Another "what if" scenario is if we were both asleep! A smoke detector would have been our saving grace) See how many are recommended to have in your size home (if you are a renter, this is a regulation your landlord must meet, so just check that). Have a fire extinguisher inside your home, and keep somewhere accessible that everyone in your home knows where to find and how to use!
four know your area! Know where the exits are in your building and know what is around you for use. For example, I was totally oblivious to the fire extinguisher in the hallway. And another good point that the Fire Dept brought up when I was on the phone was whether there as a fire alarm I could pull-I didn't know if there was! I still don't... It's important to know these things!!
If there is anything that I am missing, please educate me and I will be happy to share it on this space for anyone to see and learn from our experience! Things happen, but this was preventable had we known about the possibility of bathroom fan fires.
Thank you for reading and I hope that you can take something away from this that will make your home a safer place and make you more alert to your surroundings.
ps. Oh, how naïve my weekend plans were on my previous post, ha!