As a Red Cross volunteer, I'm all too familiar with the physical loss associated with fire; I've seen magnificent buildings transformed to rubble and personal belongings reduced to ash. One thing I hadn't experienced was the loss of life during my volunteer responses. That changed this week as I arrived on the scene of a three-alarm fire in Boston and discovered that a Boston University student died in the blaze.
Needless to say, I was beside myself when learning the news. I didn't know the student, but guessed that the other victims--many, if not all of them, in their teens and early 20s--living in the two-and-a-half-story home were either friends with the victim or at least knew her. Attempting to supply them with whatever comforts I could after they had experienced a tragedy so emotionally painful seemed fruitless, but I had no choice but to take on the challenge.
Three victims from BU were taken to the university police department, and each of them were still in shock as we entered one of the meeting rooms; one girl took breaks from crying to answer our questions as her silent roommate remained on the floor, curled up in a ball. Luckily, they escaped the house uninjured after hearing the smoke alarms and screams of others.They knew their fellow student living atop them wasn't as fortunate, and when dwelling on this, the sobbing began again.
After supplying them with enough funds for shoes and clothing (BU was taking care of the rest), we headed to one of the local hospitals, where a number of other victims were taken. One man in his early 20s, only two weeks away from graduating, escaped the house through his second-floor window and was about to be released from the emergency room. He, too, had no severe injuries, but did recall inhaling thick, black smoke before his escape. His mother, who made the four-hour-plus trip from New York, arrived around the same time as us, and after giving us a series of sincere "thanks you's," she grabbed her son in a warm embrace, and wept. "Don't cry, Mom," he says, as tears filled his own eyes. "I'm OK."
I've been with NFPA Journal for more than three years and have reported on people who have gone through tragedies no human being should ever experience. Witnessing the pain firsthand is a different story. The facts and statistics associated with fire loss and death are incredibly important, but this incident serves as a reminder that there's an emotional impact to fire, scars that probably take just as long to heal--perhaps even longer--than the physical ones.