by Mike Dunphy
At first, when Hannah Bean smelled burning at her two-level apartment at 197 Main Street on the morning of January 2, she ran upstairs to check if she’d inadvertently left the space heater on. It wasn’t. Next, she checked to see if any toys of her 21-month-old daughter, Greta, had been left too close to the baseboards. They weren’t.“ Then I starting seeing smoke coming up from the floorboards. Then the alarms went off,” she recalls. “I just grabbed Greta and ran out the door.
”Indeed, it had been a space heater that sparked the fire, but in the basement of the eight-unit building, where a maintenance person was attempting to thaw frozen pipes. Thankfully, quickly reacting fire crews managed to put out the flames, but not before serious damage was inflicted on several of the apartments, some of which were a total loss, or nearly so. “Our apartment got the brunt of it,” Bean recalls. “The fire came up into our house, and a lot of the downstairs was pretty burnt.
”“You always think in your head what you would do if there was a fire. You always think you could grab something on your way out, ”she remembers, “but it was pure instinct, get out of there as soon as you can. I reacted in a way I’m thankful for.” Thankfully, all the building’s tenants were either already away or able to escape, save one bird (Buster) in the basement apartment, who sadly, did not survive.
Yet, as terrible as the tragedy and trauma were—made all the worse by the subzero temperatures—they were quickly answered and overwhelmed by the response of the Montpelier community. Three of her friends—Amy Rahn, Emily Warner, Kim Myers—offered to launch a fundraising campaign on YouCaring, “a free, crowdfunding platform that empowers people to help others overcome hardships and enjoy happier, healthier lives,” according to the website.
It took some convincing, however. “I didn’t actually want her [Amy] to do it at first, ”recalls Hannah’s partner, Jeff Thomson, “I don’t take charity very lightly and felt like there were other causes that needed it more than us. Plus, we weren’t even clear how much damage there was at the time. ”Ultimately their minds were changed. As Thomson recalls, “Kim said, ‘People want to help you, and whether or not you think you need it, they want to give, so just accept it.
’”They did, but never did they expect how much they’d have to accept. In less than a week’s time, the campaign raised nearly$12,000. The total now stands at $13,573(at the time of writing this), thanks to the donations of 202 people. “I thought the number was outrageous when she first said it,” Thomson remembers when it was first mentioned. “I thought, ‘no way, that number’s way too high, but then my thoughts went to the neighbors who didn’t have fundraising, soI was concerned about having it support themif it was more than we needed.
”Several other victims of the fire, but not everyone, also had campaigns launched on their behalf. Those campaigns raised nearly$15,000 through GoFundMe.com. Helping to fill any deficits, others have stepped in. “Local business, unprovoked, have been finding us on the street and giving us gift cards and gift certificates for stores and restaurants,” Thomson explains.
Perhaps most notable have been the efforts of Sweet Melissa’s and Charlie O’s, both of which hosted benefit shows, on January 5 and January 13, respectively. “The benefit came about because we wanted to assist the residents of the 197 Main fire who lost everything,” explains Beckie Sheloske, booking manager/event coordinator of Charlie O’s, who organized the show with Juliana Jennings, Liz Beatty, and Kim Myers. “This kind of benefit is special because it actively brings the community together to help each other in times of crisis, and it sets the example that in Montpelier, this is how we do it.
”The benefit show included Jessica Rabbit Syndrome, Zeus Springsteen, and Thomson’s own band, Lake Superior. In addition to the money raised from tickets, a raffle was held with items contributed from the following businesses: Capital Kitchen, Capitol Grounds, Splash Naturals, Woodbury Mountain Toys, Guitar Sam, Three Penny Taproom, J. Langdon, Bear Pond Books, Kismet, Bailey Road, Alla Vita, Pinky’s On State, Michael’s On The Hill, and artist Robert Morgan. All together, it raised $1,375.
The support goes a long way in helping overcome not only the loss of so many possessions to water, smoke, and fire damage, but also the shock of the experience, which still affects the couple. “It took me a while to sleep well,” Bean says, “but after going through our remaining stuff and facing it, and with all the help from our friends, I’m feeling better.” Sadly, some of the items lost were irreplaceable, including the milkman uniform jacket of Thomson’s grandfather.
The experience also colors their search for anew apartment, which is ongoing. “I don’t want to be on a third-floor apartment,” Bean points out. When another landlord noted an apartment was right above the furnace, “so the heat comes right up from the floor, ”Thomson thought, “No, not that one.
”Perhaps more importantly, the fire reminded them of the warmth of the Montpelier community. “It reinforced what I already knew,” Bean explains, “This community is amazing, and everyone is looking out for each other.”