It was a sneaky fire, burning quietly, behind the firebox, looking for air to fuel its spread. It slowly crept up the chimney chase, outside the stainless steel tube designed to safely transport the smoke out of the house.
A little past ten o’clock on Wednesday, January 4, 2012, with the temperature dropping to -19 Celsius (-2 Fahrenheit), the Goguen family of Hatchet Lake, Nova Scotia were settling in for the night. Chewbacca, the family Labradoodle, had been out one final time and four-year-old Aden was safely tucked in for a night of dreams. Rey and Lisa were simply lying down, falling asleep when Lisa caught scent of what she thought was smoke. She went to the bedroom door, turned on the hallway light and looked down towards the living room where the fireplace was burning.
Rey, realizing Lisa sensed a problem with the fireplace, sat up and caught the acrid smell of smoke in the air. He quickly went to check out the fireplace, where he could see flames clearly visible outside the firebox, and knew he had to get the family out of the house.
Rey acted quickly and the entire family, including the loyal Chewbacca, made it safely outside before the fire reached the roofline where it could get the oxygen it needed spread quickly. Then Rey did what he says “might have been the stupidest thing” he’s ever done. He ran back upstairs as the smoke was starting to build to grab some clothes. “I ran up the stairs, three at a time as soon as the smoke became visible,” said Rey. “It took less than ten seconds, but when I turned around with my clothes under my arm, I couldn’t see through the smoke.” Today, Rey is quick to point out to everyone that fire and smoke spreads just as fast as any safety expert proclaims (and he knows he was lucky to get out when he did).
As Rey stood outside in only a t-shirt and jeans, during the coldest night of the year, watching his family’s home of four years engulf in flames, he realized the one item he wished he didn’t leave behind. “The most important tool my HTC Magic could have provided me that night was a simple phone,” said Rey. “When you’re used to having a cell phone you can feel almost inadequate or disabled without it.”
Yeah, especially if you’re watching as your home goes up in flames, with your neighbors around you. Fortunately, many of them were there to offer help and support. “We had no fewer than a dozen offers to put my family up in neighbors homes, along with offers of child and dog care,” said Rey. “So many offers of “if there’s anything you need”, all from people I really didn’t know and in some cases perfect strangers.”
Less than twelve hours later, climbing through the remains of his home, Rey took mental inventory of what was lost; everything – computers, TVs, camera’s, clothes, and more, yet at the same time, nothing at all – his family was safe.
Looking through the charred debris of his room, Rey saw the burned up nightstand where his HTC Magic had been charging. His first smartphone, Rey decided to make sure he kept it as a souvenir. So he picked it up and for fun, hit the power button. To his surprise, the phone turned on.
Over the next two weeks, Rey found a new set of uses for a smartphone that survived not only the house fire, but also the thousand of gallons of water the fire department used to extinguish the blaze.
Beyond e-mail, which quickly became the most common communication tool for Rey and Lisa as they dealt with the insurance company, they had an increased use of features and apps like the camera to document the damage in photos and video.
Having lost their home computer, TVs and more, the HTC Magic, and later the replacement HTC Raider, quickly became the primary communication and entertainment tool. After all, working on insurance claims can be hard enough without the added pressure of entertaining a four-year-old.
“We lost our TVs and my son loves cartoons,” said Rey. “YouTube became a tool to I could access to entertain Aden while I worked on claims related to the house fire.”
Other apps such as CamScanner, FB Reader, Android Lightsaber and AllRecipe helped Rey keep some small sense of normalcy in their day. Which for Rey includes keeping up to date with Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) results via Score Mobile. “MMA is kind of uncivilized, but what can I say,” said Rey.
But the most overwhelming part of the night was not a phone or a fire, rather it was the outpouring of concern and support from not only friends, but also people the Goguens barely knew, which turned into an ongoing theme that night and ever since.
“My first day back at work my coworkers presented me with $200 in Toys R’ Us gift cards,” said Rey. “ Lisa came home from work everyday with more clothes and toys for the whole family.”
Not to mention the fundraiser put together by a family friend, which quickly grew with donations from all over the community. “There were 130 items donated for auction, most of them donated by people I didn’t know,” said Rey. “It was such a great night; bands playing, people dancing, seeing old friends I hadn’t seen in years. The ongoing kindness of friends and strangers has been very humbling.”
Now, as the Goguen’s get ready to start rebuilding a new home, Rey remains thankful for the faint smell of smoke and early detection.
“I just remember smelling a little smoke before it was at all visible,” said Rey. “If I would have waited for the smoke detector to wake me up, the smoke would have been so thick we wouldn’t have been able to see through it or breathe. The first piece of advice I’ve been telling everyone is to listen to what the experts say; know your escape routes and make sure your family does too.
“Next is to know your insurance policy. We had 100 percent replacement value on ours, which saved us financially,” said Rey. “The most important thing is to get away safe, but life afterwards is a lot easier with good insurance coverage!”
Thanks Rey and Lisa for sharing your story. While we’re impressed your smartphone survived the fire and became a tool that helped you through the ordeal, we’re more impressed, and thankful, for the safety of your family.
EDITOR”S NOTE: The original smartphone owned by Rey Goguen was an HTC Magic, it was previously mislabeled as HTC Dream