Thank god my parents got out of the house in time and were not stuck upstairs!

My childhood home, that I grew up in and lived in with my parents for more than a quarter of a century, burned to the ground over this past weekend.  They still live there. “Lived there.”

After my basketball game, I had noticed over eight missed calls.  I heard the message about my parents’ house being on fire; I ran out of the building, got in my car, and sped off.

When I arrived, the street was blocked off by volunteer firemen.  They stopped me cold in my tracks even though I was beyond anxious to get to my parents and make sure they were ok.  They had to walkie-talkie in and see if it was ok for me to proceed.  But there’s no way they could have stopped me. After they got approval to let me pass, one firefighter accompanied me slowly up the hill and around the corner.  Only then I could see what was left of my home and I needed to make sure my parents were ok.  My feet were full speed now and, as I took in the view, my breath was sucked out of my chest. I pushed forward, ran down the hill, and saw what was left.  Already upset, I was looking for my parents amongst the neighbors.  I found my mom standing under an umbrella and my father on the neighbor’s porch. I lost it.  I had no words.   All devastated, but happy no one was harmed, we embraced each other.  Being an only child there is a different connection I have with my parents. Though difficult to explain, I know it’s special and it’s there.

I watched the firemen laying down on the ladder shooting mountains of water at the empty charred frame of the rooms in which I grew up. I could not hold in emotions.  Memories of my past kept shooting through my head like fireworks.  I stood in silence watching the steam rise to the sky from the remains.  My family had moved in when I was only a month old.  I had lost all my baby teeth there, spent many holidays there with my family, grew from a boy to a man there, was consoled there by my mother when I suffered heartbreak, laid my head there for a great portion of my life, studied to get through college there, built my first business there.  That home had prepared me to move on, to create my own little piece of this world, separate from there.

What is really important

The most important thing in life is connection with our family and friends we meet along the way: Hence why photos and videos are such valuable possessions. I know my mom was upset she lost her jewelry and clothes.  But with only a few exceptions of special pieces, those items are replaceable.   Sadly, I know that she had many albums of our family that were not scanned digitally.  Most will be lost forever. This is beyond upsetting.

When time passes, mental images get a little blurry.   Age can also rob us of precious moments, memories.  Fortunately, we can look back at photographs and will instantly be brought back to those moments.  It’s amazing what an image can do, the feelings it can allow you to recall and possess in a brief moment of reflection. How you felt when you were on your first bike as a kid. The excitement you felt when you were up in the chair during your Bar Mitzvah with your 90’s hair and clothing.  The embrace of three friends in a photo after one of them passes away and all you have left is that one photo of you all together. I can go on and on with examples of photographs I have seen a million times and I can see the moments in my head.  I can feel them.

From this horrific event, I learned several lessons and was reminded of what is really important in life.  Most possessions can be replaced, with the exception of family heirlooms. Your loved ones and family truly do come before anything.  I am upset about the irreplaceable loss of the photographs of my grandfather on my mother’s side. You should, as I always say, “plan for the worst but expect the best.” Lastly we should all learn from our mistakes as well as other’s mistakes around us. My father had a Gibson guitar that was made in 1960 and was in mint condition. He was given it when he was 10 years old and it was probably one of the most sentimental pieces he’s ever owned.  I know this, along with his 78” TV, is his biggest concern. He knows all the photos I made for him of the family can be reprinted as I keep multiple backups onsite, offsite, and with cloud storage online.  The TV can be replaced with a newer, better model.  But his guitar, boxes of analog videos of when I was a child, and a collection of photos from his family are lost forever.

Planning for the worst

Before returning to my current home, I was already starting to plan for the worst.  I had made a list of essential equipment including rope ladders for the upstairs rooms in my house. Also, I’m going to purchase more fire extinguishers and have them readily available in the main areas of the house. I will make sure those that I already have are up to date and work. Call ADT Security and have them double check our fire alarms and automatic connection to the police and fire departments.  Take pictures of some of my home possessions and keep them backed up.  I have been doing this for my business each year by photographing everything and keeping a spreadsheet with models, prices, and serial numbers. I bet there are a ton of photographers and videographers that have not done this.  It takes about 2-3 hours and can save your business in case of emergency.  Keep pictures of important documents in a secure place online so you have proof of existence.

  • Have an evacuation plan at your house!
  • If you have any rooms on a second or third story, have a fold out ladder that you can buy at Home Depot for $45.
  • Check your fire extinguishers and make sure they are properly placed in your home.
  • Digitize old analog videos and get them backup up on the cloud
  • Make sure smoke alarm batteries are good.  I have my smoke alarms built into my security system for added safety.
  • Scan all your old photographs, Social security cards, passports, and birth certificates and put them on a secure cloud storage space.
  • Backup, backup, backup! Having a backup USB flash drive at your home is worthless in an emergency.  It needs to be on cloud storage.
  • Get a fireproof & waterproof safe for important documents.

Lessons Learned

I am pissed I did not have a camera in my car.  I wanted to document this event in more detail than merely with my phone.  I could not stop thinking about taking individual portraits of every police officer and firefighter that helped put the fire out and kept my parents and neighbors safe.  They did an absolute incredible job during the fire and helping us after it was put out. One of the firemen was Lieutenant Robert Dovi. I grew up with him in this very neighborhood. He helped my family a great deal with finding important belongings in the house such as their passports and important files that were not damaged.  I will now always keep a camera loaded with film on my person at all times!

I thank god that my parents are ok, that no one was injured ,and lastly we will be photographing and pushing more to capture life as it’s not just my job, but it’s my fucking duty!