The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 27, 2012

Group reaches out to aid fire victims

Randy Griffith
rgriffith@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — Bonnie Foust knows what it’s like to lose everything in a fire.

Her earliest memories include her harrowing escape from a Bedford County house fire at age 3.

More recently, Foust helped her sister pick up the pieces after a blaze.

After a devastating fire in the summer, Foust helped launch a grass-roots effort to collect donations for victims.

Now Second Chance Fire Recovery Services has sprung to the aid of 13 people displaced by last week’s massive Coleman Avenue fire.

“When everything is lost, it is so hard to do,” Foust said. “The Salvation Army and Red Cross help, but they are very limited money-wise.”

Foust and Second Chance co-founder Adam Jeske started putting the word out for donations before the emergency crews rolled up the last hose.

“Adam listens to the scanner to hear what all is involved,” Foust said.

“We start as soon as we hear.”

Jeske’s experience as a firefighter with Lower Yoder Volunteer Fire Company helped him see the fire victims’ plight.

“We decided, based on our background, that we’ll start it and see what happens,” Jeske said.

“We’ll see if we can help in any way.”

The response has been “absolutely amazing,” Jeske said. Donations of clothing, household supplies and personal items are being gathered at Foust’s Moxham home for distribution later this week.

“I don’t have any room to get around my house,” Foust said.

That doesn’t mean the collection has ceased. Second Chance will take donations through Friday, at least, she said.

Those interested in helping should call her at 535-8524.

“We appreciate everything people do for us,” fire victim Jim Michaels said. “You have to replace a whole lot more than you think you have to, so it helps a lot.”

Michaels was alerted to the fire by a neighbor from across Coleman Avenue. He joined the Good Samaritan to rouse his neighbors, including a woman in her 90s.

Michaels and his wife have spent the past few days trying to find rental housing.

“You just keep going,” he said. “You can’t quit in this world. If you quit, you quit on life.”

Eleven of the victims lived in a building with five apartments. It was one of three structures reduced to rubble by the fire, which broke out late Thursday.

The other two who were displaced lived next to the apartment building in a home that was heavily damaged by water, smoke and fire.

The fire apparently started in one of two vacant structures that were destroyed.

Don Michaels, city codes officer, said one had been vacant since 2001 and was condemned in 2010. Taxes have not been paid on the property since 2000.

The other has been vacant for at least three years, and the Connecticut owners were behind on taxes, Michaels said.

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