Community supports Ind. firefighter, family after blaze destroys house
"There are still good people," said Brian Hammond, a Russiaville Volunteer Fire Department firefighter
By Kim Dunlap
NEW LONDON, Ind. — As a firefighter with the Russiaville Volunteer Fire Department, New London resident Brian Hammond has seen the ways a fire can devastate a home and a family's life in a matter of minutes.
But he admitted he had never really seen or felt the impacts of the aftermath because there was always a truck to hop on that would take him back to the fire department and away from the scene.
But then came last Sunday.
After enjoying Easter lunch with his family, including his wife Danielle and their five children, Hammond said he drove into Russiaville for some fountain drinks.
"I walked in and got her (Danielle's) drink and my drink, and I no more than got out into the car that my phone rang," Hammond said. "It was Danielle calling and screaming that the house was on fire and to get back."
A lot of thoughts and feelings go through your mind in a moment like that, Hammond noted, but shock is probably one of the biggest ones.
"I still don't know if my brain has fully been able to comprehend everything that actually happened on Sunday," Hammond told the Tribune. "I got there, and the dad instinct in me kicked in. I made sure all of our kids were safe. I made sure all of our dogs were safe. I realized that all the kids were across the street at the neighbor's house. Being a firefighter, I've always said, 'Hey, if this ever happens, do this,' and the kids did exactly what they were supposed to do.
"The two boys, as soon as they realized the house was on fire, they were the ones that told Danielle that the house was on fire," he added. "They made sure that everybody was out of the house. ... And as soon as I got there, I grabbed the water hose from the house, which unfortunately doesn't do much in a structure fire. But I was just trying to put as much water on it as I could until (RVFD) got there."
The actual cause of the fire is still under investigation, but RVFD Chief Landen Bartley said the fire appeared to start on the exterior of the residence.
Bartley added that once the firefighters found out the house belonged to one of their own, their minds began to ask questions they didn't initially know the answers to.
"The first thing is, since you know them, you know their kids," he said, "so that's the first thing that comes to mind is their family. Are the kids out? Is his wife out? Is that OK? So that's the first thing. Then after that, it's more of, 'We've got a job to do, and we're going to do it exactly the same way we'd do any other one.'"
RVFD was assisted at the scene by the Harrison Township Volunteer Fire Department and the Burlington Volunteer Fire Department, who provided water support and manpower.
However, fire officials still deem the house a total loss.
But you can replace objects, Hammond noted. You can't replace people.
"The house went from being completely fine to being fully involved in 5 or 10 minutes," he said. "So I've learned to just cherish every moment that you can because at any point in time, it can change.
"It's definitely going to teach me a different way of firefighting, too," Hammond added, "making sure that you're following up with families after something this devastating happens. Being a firefighter, I've done this since 2006. My dad's been a firefighter my entire life. So I've seen the aftermath of fires, but I've never had the experience of what it's like to go through a fire like this personally. ... Just never take life for granted."
And never take for granted the love and support of complete strangers either, Hammond said, alluding to the community support his family has received since Sunday.
Hammond — who said he doesn't like to ask others for help — even set up a GoFundMe page for the family at the urging of some of his friends.
"For me, it's been extremely overwhelming," he said, referring to the outpouring of love that his family's received from the community. "It's just good to see that there are still good people, I guess, to reach out and just help complete strangers."
As of Tuesday morning, news of the fire had traveled throughout social media, with people offering the Hammond family everything from monetary support to furniture and clothing.
The support specifically from the New London and Russiaville area has been heartwarming too, Hammond added.
"It's been amazing out here," he said. "I love the small-town vibe. The insurance adjuster showed up and was talking about trying to find more land and everything like that for us, and I said, 'I'm not leaving New London. This is where we're staying. We're going to rebuild right here.'"
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