Rising from the ashes: Help for Vermonters recovering from firesBy Brent CurtisAlbert J. Marro / Staff Photo
Chad Farrell and his wife Nicole Farrell stand inside their new apartment in Rutland City on Saturday afternoon. The couple and their children were forced to move after a fire in their former apartment earlier in the week.
On Monday night, Chad and Nicole Farrell lost their family’s home and possessions in a fire.
By Saturday afternoon, the Rutland couple and their four children had made surprising strides toward getting their lives back in order.
The fire on the second floor of 105 South St. last week was doused by city firefighters before the building was destroyed.
But the combination of smoke, flames and water left the Farrells’ apartment uninhabitable. And while Nicole and her three children were present when the fire started, they were able to escape uninjured, with little more than the clothes they wore.
“One of the kids didn’t even have socks,” Nicole Farrell, 28, said. “A guy ran out of his house and asked what I needed and I told him ‘socks.’ He came back with socks and a snowsuit for the baby.”
That act of kindness by a neighbor she didn’t know was only the first act of generosity that the family would receive from friends, relatives, humanitarian groups and total strangers in the days following the fire.
By Saturday, the six-member family with children ages 12, 11, 2 and 10 months had moved out of a Rutland hotel — paid for by the American Red Cross — and was preparing to move into an apartment on Williams Street.
“A lot of people have been looking for houses for us,” Chad Farrell, 39, said as friends and members of the church he and his family attend moved furniture and cleaned the apartment. “I feel bad to take or ask for help, but on the other hand I know there are different seasons in life and my family can’t be homeless.”
The Farrells weren’t the only Vermonters left homeless last week by house fires.
A day after the Rutland fire, an electrical fire in a three-unit house on Route 4A in Castleton left seven people without lodging and on Wednesday a fast-moving blaze destroyed a Barre Town log cabin that was home to another six-member family.
In every instance, the fire victims found help from multiple quarters — starting in most cases with help from the Red Cross which provides food, clothing and emergency lodging at local hotels and motels for people displaced by fires.
“We like to say that recovery starts the moment a disaster strikes,” said Doug Bishop, a spokesman for the Vermont and New Hampshire Valley chapter of the Red Cross which assisted the victims of the fires in Rutland, Castleton and Barre.
Beyond emergency relief, there are other local organizations, principally local community action agencies like BROC, which provides transitional housing and access to its thrift store and food shelf.
But in the case of the Farrells, and the Barnett family who lost their home in Barre, local business owners and individuals — many of them strangers — have had the biggest impact on their recovery thus far.
Damian Barnett and Kaysie Breer spent seven months building their contemporary log cabin on Phelps Road in Barre.
Three years after they and their four children moved in, flames demolished the building in hours on Wednesday.
Again, none of the family members was hurt — although a beloved family pet perished. But just like the Farrells, the flames left the family with nothing.
“One of the most devastating parts was when they were tearing the house down and they tore down a wall exposing a closet that was filled with Christmas gifts,” Damian said Saturday.
The presents, like the rest of the home, were ruined.
But since that gut-wrenching scene, Damian and Kaysie said they have received a number of unexpected gifts worth more to them than anything they ever bought in a store.
Starting hours after the fire, the family began receiving everything from clothing and boots to gift certificates and money from people and businesses in the community.
The Cornerstone Pub & Kitchen — a Barre establishment that no member of the Barnett family had ever set foot in — stepped forward with an offer to collect clothing, toys and gift cards for the family.
“That’s just what being a member of a small community is all about,” Cornerstone owner Keith Paxman said.
At Granite Hills Credit Union in Barre, an account for financial donations has been established for the family, and the family was outfitted with shoes, boots and other footwear for free at Lenny’s Shoes & Apparel in Barre.
“A high school kid who works at Lenny’s paid for my boots,” Damian said. “People making absolute minimum wage have been willing to go without to help perfect strangers — it’s amazing.”
On Saturday, the Barnett family moved into three rooms at the Capitol Plaza Hotel & Conference Center in downtown Montpelier ,where their lodging was provided for free and the staff placed stuffed animals on the children’s beds.
Earlier in the day, a man he didn’t know called Damian to tell him that he couldn’t in good conscience wear the new North Face jacket he just bought.
“He said he couldn’t wear it knowing I was in the same town as him with nothing to wear outdoors but a sweatshirt,” Damian said. “You always hear about the bad things in Barre City and Barre Town but after living here all our lives this experience has shown us that Barre isn’t a bad place to live at all.”
“We’re going to rebuild on the same spot. That is our goal. It’s our home,” he added.
In Rutland, the Farrells said they too have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.
With the help of friends and the members of the Alliance Community Fellowship Church, along with contributions from a fundraising event at Rutland Intermediate School and clothing donations at the Rutland High School, the parents say they’ve finally been able to regain what they want for their family: stability.
“It’s amazing,” Nicole Farrell said. “We knew God would provide, but we didn’t know how we would end up.”
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