MacDill shows support to fire victims
by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman
The support we've received has been overwhelming," said Staff Sgt. Brian Pratt, who recently lost his home to a fire. "And it's not just the Air Force: it's the Army, Navy, Marines and even people from off base. The community involvement here is amazing."
Sergeant Pratt's home, located near the base hospital, caught fire March 11. Base fire fighters responded to the scene and were able to extinguish the blaze but not before the blaze had destroyed almost everything of value inside. They even lost their pet rabbit.
Since then, Airman 1st Class Christopher Kisse, vice president of the No One Comes Close Council, and Airman 1st Class Heidi Mohr, NOC3 treasurer, spent several days in front of the Base Exchange collecting donations. They were able to raise more than $1,100, which was used to purchase gift certificates.
Those certificates were presented to Sergeant Pratt Tuesday in the air traffic control tower where he works as a controller for the 6th Operational Support Squadron. The gift was unexpected and Sergeant Pratt was pleasantly surprised. "I had no idea this was coming," he said.
"People have been donating money like crazy," said Airman Mohr. "Even retirees and civilians have been pulling 50 and one hundred dollar bills out to give. It's a real testament to the strong community we have here."
Luckily, the Pratt family wasn't in danger when the call went to the 9-1-1 dispatchers. They were in St. Petersburg where Sergeant Pratt was practicing his favorite pastime, racing motocross. It was around 6:30 p.m. when he first got the call.
"At first I thought it might have been just a small fire," he said. "Until we actually pulled up to the house, we didn't know how bad it actually was. You never think it can happen to you until it does." The Pratt family does have renters' insurance, but that won't cover the time they have to spend explaining what happened to their daughters.
"My youngest daughter is only two, so she's oblivious," he said. "But my oldest is four and we had to take her by the house after the fire so she would understand why we couldn't go get her Barbie pillow."
Chief Master Sgt. Troy Basham, 6th Civil Engineer Squadron, said independent experts were called in to determine the cause of the fire and what they found was tragic. A single cigarette butt, mistakenly believed to be extinguished, slowly burned on the outside patio carpet until it ignited.
Since no one was home to stop the fire, flames continued to build until the carpet, the walls and eventually most of the roof was engulfed. While this fire could have been prevented, Chief Basham said the investigators determined the fire was officially an accident.
"It's kind of hard to tell people they can't smoke in their own homes," said Chief Basham. "I guess technically it wasn't even inside since it was on the patio."
For now, the Pratt family is staying in the Temporary Lodging Facility here on base. Sergeant Pratt said he expects to be back in base housing by mid-April. Unfortunately, they weren't the only ones affected by the fire.
The structure they called home was a duplex and due to the massive amounts of water it took to squelch the fire, Jaimie and Dawn Charlton suffered major water damage as well. They too have been placed in the TLF until a new house is available.
"We've had so many offers for clothes and furniture, we've been trying to split everything with them," said Sergeant Pratt humbly, emphasizing that he didn't want his neighbors to be forgotten. "I'll probably split these gift certificates with them too."
Anyone interested in making donations to the Pratt's should be aware they have already received many items such as furniture, clothes and "so many toys it's like Christmas," said Sergeant Pratt.
For guidance on how to best help, contact Senior Master Sgt. Tony Brinkley, 6th Operations Support Squadron first sergeant, at 828-7866.
"I can't say thank you enough to all the people who have helped us," said Sergeant Pratt. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"