PORF Helps SEBA Member After Devastating Fire

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The piercing sound of the shrill fire alarm ripped through their sleep in the dead of night.

Like other times when the annoying signal has gone off, interrupting a peaceful rest, Heather Forsythe was initially annoyed. The sound persisted and forced Forsythe out of bed only to be met with the smell of smoke and the realization this was not a false alarm.

The soot in the air was suffocating and the heat was stifling. The flames were coming down from the attic and she knew they would not have long. She and her husband rushed to grab her son and ran out of the house.

They stood on the edge of their large desert property and watched in disbelief as the bold flames danced across the top of their home. The blaze moved and grabbed portions of the house, devouring the wood, drywall and plaster. It continued even after firefighters arrived, fighting against the water until finally being extinguished.

The Forsythe family was left staring at a soggy, charred, ash-filled frame.

The house was a total loss.

Most of their possessions were burnt. And if they were not burnt, they were water-damaged. It was a daunting real-ity, Forsythe said. Little things you take for granted were gone. Memories were gone. Clothes, shoes, toys, photos, towels to wipe the smoke and sweat from your face – all gone.

Although the loss of material items is staggering, the Forsythe family is grateful nobody was hurt.

“Most importantly, the smoke alarms did their job and woke us in enough time to get the kids and pets out,” Forsythe said. “God was certainly watching over our family.” 
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One thing, symbolically remained, hanging in the garage; a corner of it charred but otherwise untouched: the thin blue line flag.

Forsythe said the outpouring of support from the San Bernardino County Sheriff ’s Department and the San Bernardino Police Department were incredible. People brought food and donations. There were so many people willing to help, Forsythe was almost at a loss to figure out tangible ways to allow them to help. People offered to let the Forsythes stay with them, or in their rental properties but Heather and her husband were worried about people looting the remains of the house.

Eventually they chose to stay in a friend’s RV on their property to allow them to keep an eye on the remains. And although they were not supposed to, they rummaged through some of the debris looking for items of emotional value.

SEBA reached out also, offering funds from the Peace Officer’s Relief Fund (PORF) which provide financial distress and emergency benefits among other things.  Initially, the Forsythes were resistant to applying for help but as the stress and financial strain continued to mount, they reached out to PORF. The family was granted an undisclosed financial amount to help them in their time of need.

Foresythe, who confronted this new challenge with amazing strength, also wanted to share her story with others.

“I want to share what I’ve learned through all this,” Forsythe said. “If others can learn from this, I want to help them. I want to help people be prepared and help prevent this tragedy.”

The most important message to others would be to make sure there are working fire alarms in the house. Had it not been for the smoke detectors, the results could have been fatal. The fire spread at such a rapid speed that every second truly count-ed. The sharp, earsplitting alarm made the difference between life and death.

“People need to make sure they have working smoke detectors,” Heather said. “I cannot stress this enough. They couldn’t save our house but they saved our lives.”

Another hard lesson the Forsythes learned was to keep an active inventory of things of value in the home. It sounds daunting, and unlikely to be necessary, but if God forbid tragedy strikes, you will be happy you did it, she said.

Heather and her family had to try to itemize all the things in the home, from appliances and electronics, to jewelry and furniture. It is daunting to try and remember the make and model of your camera or your laptop, Forsythe said. It may seem petty but each model carries a different value and all those values add up. It was incredibly difficult trying to do this with-out any pre-planning, Forsythe said. The emotional hurt alone was awful but the frustration of not having items documented added to the pain.

 “Today starts the week of inventories of the contents of what’s left of our home,” Heather posted on Facebook in February. “We are told anything not burned will likely be too water and smoke-damaged to be saved. I’m sure it will be an emotion-al week as we sift through our stuff and memories. I know this goes without saying but please keep us in your prayers.”

Forsythe also warns people to check their policies for details about exactly what would be covered in the event of total loss. For example, make sure a pol-icy details coverage of the “replacement cost value” of an item, otherwise it will be depreciated about 10% for every year of ownership. Along the same lines, a good policy should also cover the cost to rebuild the home, including the additional costs to meet current codes.

“It’s not enough to be reimbursed the cost to rebuild the house to the old standards,” Forsythe said. “It won’t cover the costs due to all the new building laws and codes.”

Lastly, people should make sure the coverage for demolition is high enough to cover all costs. In the Forsythe’s case, the policy only covered $20,000 for demolition and the actual cost to demolish the house exceeded the coverage by more than $6,000. Nobody likes to think of these “worst-case” scenarios, Forsythe said, but when confronted with them it is hard to come up with thousands of dollars of additional monies to cover all the gaps.

The Forsythes have been through seemingly countless steps with the insurance company and other parites; inventories, property valuations, plans for new construction, etc. The process has been slow-moving. The house was completely demolished and plans are being made to rebuild. Right now their property is flat and barren but it holds incredible potential. Despite the pain and frustration resulting from this tragic fire, Forsythe said she leans on her faith, family and friends. Her Facebook page cover photos says, “When life gets too hard to stand, kneel.”

“I can’t express my gratitude enough,” Heather said. “This has been a humbling event for our family but we remain focused on the positive. And having generosity poured out like this makes us feel loved and supported.”

The PORF Fund at SEBA is a bene-fit available to all safety members. If you are a member who is in need of financial help due to a catastrophic event, injury or emergency, please contact SEBA.
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