Paige Shirley is amazed by the outpouring of support after her home, a 46-foot houseboat, burned down with her two Great Danes aboard last week in Marathon. Both dogs perished from smoke inhalation.
“The first people to arrive were the firefighters from Station 14. They worked for 25 minutes trying to resuscitate the dogs,” said Paige.
It was heart breaking for Paige and her girlfriend Kelly Reid and son Dylan Paige, 17. Neighbors spotted the fire when the family was out and contacted the fire department immediately. Both dogs were rescue animals — “Andy” was deaf and blind and “Britta” only had three legs.
“It was my job to protect them, and in the end, I couldn’t,” Paige said.
Her sorrow is tempered by the locals’ response to the loss of a home and animals.
So many people have offered help, the names tumble out of Paige’s month in a big rush.
“Monroe County Sheriff deputies helped, folks from Home Depot, a guy that came over from the country club, fire auxiliary volunteers, paramedics, the old salts from the dock and, of course, my family from the hospital where both Kelly and I work, Daisha and Karen and Food For Thought. I even had one man call me out of the blue and offer me storage space,” Paige said.
The man was Jack Kornetti.
“A friend called me to tell me about the situation. She was in need and I had something she could use. I just thought it was the right thing to do,” he said.
Members of the Sheriff’s Office and Marathon Fire and Rescue organized the sifting, sorting, heaving and transporting. It was more than the two women and teenage boy could handle.
“And to make matters worse, I’m in a wheel chair. I just had foot surgery and couldn’t put any weight on it,” Paige said, adding that the situation has landed her back in the hospital for more follow-up care.
Monroe County Sheriff Lieutenant Charlene Sprinkle-Huff reached out after the news.
“I knew her from the hospital and so I called her,” Charlene said. “And then I immediately called my friend Jenni Cameron from the Marathon Firefighters Benevolent Association.”
Between the two ladies, they mustered on and off-duty officers, reserve officers and general members of the public to help load items from the burnt boat to the dock and then from the dock into eight pickup truck loads to be transferred to the storage facility. That included everything from photo albums to the 100-pound garden sculpture of a gargoyle. Everyone hopes that it all can be salvaged.
“Everyone came together rather quickly and at the very last minute,” Sprinkle-Huff said. “We just pulled together and got it done. We were sweaty, but happy.”
Paige said she wants to turn the tragedy into a lesson in fire safety.
“The cause of the fire was a sub-standard, made-in-China cord hard-wired into a $300 lamp. I never thought to check for the reflective UL sticker on the cord of the salt rock lamp with a five-watt bulb,” she said. “Check anything that plugs into the wall. Let this be an educational opportunity.”
It’s ironic, because Paige and Dylan are self-described safety “nerds.” They had smoke detectors and regularly changed out the batteries twice a year. The boat had no less than six fire extinguishers. They even had an evacuation plan for the dogs — load them on the mattress and push it out the window.
Although initial reports said the homeowners had been completing repairs, Paige said that’s not exactly right.
“We were working on our roof-top garden, adding misters and things like that,” she said.
For now, the family has found a home in a small trailer. Friends and volunteers will be gathering on Saturday at noon at the storage unit on 4th Avenue behind Specialty Hardware. They will be sorting, cleaning and shrink wrapping what can be salvaged.
Also, friends have started a home recovery fund on giveforward.com (click to view). So far, they have raised $6,000 of a $12,000 goal.
“I think we’re also going to have an event at Dockside soon,” she said. “I hope everyone comes out so I can hug the necks of everybody in the community that came out to help, especially my hospital family.
“Really, it’s not so bad, though,” Paige said. “We’re still on the right side of the dirt.”