Note: This article appears on page 15 of the Pulaski Citizen, published August 28, 2019.
'The Cavalry Arrived. ..'
Tuesday, Aug. 6, an apartment complex in the Birmingham area caught fire. The complex informed my daughter and son-in-law that their apartment had not been damaged. Later, the complex informed them that their apartment HAD been damaged. (More about "the complex" later.) Upon reaching their apartment the Fire Marshal permitted them inside accompanied by a firefighter, to retrieve basic necessities. The fire had stopped only inches from their front door. Inside was (then) only minor water damage. The firefighter helped carry out selected items.
Wednesday, Aug. 7, 11 a.m.: After signing waivers, the displaced residents began removing what could be salvaged. They stopped at 5 p.m. with the understanding that they COULD return on Friday and/or Saturday.
Thursday, Aug. 8: A fence was erected around the burned units. My wife and daughter visited the site to see if there would be room for a truck inside the fence on Friday. A structural engineer (hired by the complex) said that the buildings had been condemned. My wife told him, "Everything we want is already boxed and we need about two hours to get everything out." He replied: "Five minutes or two hours. Nobody’s going back inside these buildings. We're shutting it down."
One of the displaced, acquainted with Hoover, Ala., City Administrator Allan Rice, called and told him about the “condemned” buildings and being denied access to their stuff. He informed the resident that only the city had authority to condemn buildings and arranged for the displaced to return to their apartments on Wednesday, Aug. 14.
That day the CAVALRY arrived, riding on a fire truck, led by Battalion Chief David Hambright. Deputy Fire Marshal Richard Linn was there also, plus a team of firefighters from the Hoover Fire Department. (We learned that Mr. Rice was once one of them.)
I visited the complex office with my daughter. As we had heard that only 30 minutes would be allotted for our retrieval tasks, I asked if this was true. “Yes,” we were told. “And that comes from my boss and my boss’s boss.” When I mentioned the time limit to Chief Hambright, he said, “You let me worry about that.” I did.
After the apartments were inspected, Chief Hambright explained what they would and would not do to assist the residents in recovering their belongings, and only firefighters would be allowed inside. These men spent the next two hours repeatedly “bending” their own rules and going WAY YONDER above and beyond anything anyone could have expected.
The family hardest hit was able to salvage only a few of their baby’s things. The couple on the bottom floor had made a list. After the firefighters completed the list, they asked if they could do more and were told they had done enough. Next was an older woman. The complex had NOT notified her about the recovery effort. She asked that her “tubs” of family research and genealogy be removed from a closet that happened to be the only place in her apartment where the ceiling had not fallen in. She also mentioned some family heirlooms and they, too, appeared on the sidewalk.
The firefighters made many trips up and down a flight of stairs to retrieve the boxes mentioned before. My daughter would occasionally lift a random lid and the tears would flow. Then down came many items that “technically” should have been left including that Constellation Lamp. When everything was loaded we had filled three vans. Lots of hugs were exchanged. I wanted to do some hugging, too, but didn’t. I did shake a lot of hands.
When the recovered boxes are opened and what’s inside rediscovered, I am confident that joy will rise in the hearts of their owners as they remember these men who did more than they had to, just because it needed doing.* Gentlemen! On behalf of my little girl and the rest of our family: THANK YOU!
[*I wish I had ALL their names, so they, too, could be immortalized in the paragraphs of the Award-Winning THE DANTICLEER.]