Through the Fire
“Every word of God is tried and purified; He is a shield to those who trust and take refuge in Him.”
Milford, MA—A Saturday night before Easter at the home of Captains David and Jessica Irwin will live forever in their memories.
The family had gone out to dinner and a movie. After they returned home, David drove to the corps for some last–minute business. Jessica went downstairs to attend to the family’s sick dog.
Three of the couple’s children went upstairs to sleep, except for son Tyler, who was home from college. He was also upstairs, but busy doing his homework.
Then, just after midnight, the fire alarm went off. Tyler alerted everyone and moved quickly to get the family out. The home filled with smoke.
Before leaving the church, David called home to see if anyone needed anything. That’s when Jessica told him how Tyler was yelling for everyone to leave the house.
“I sped home as quick as I could and got there in four minutes,” David recalls. “The fire was already upstairs. Within 15 minutes, all exits were blocked.”
Jessica remembers, “Every once in a while, you could hear the glass shattering or you could just smell what was burning. You knew it was your home that was going, but everybody was with us and we were safe. That was the most important part. Soon, the house was gone.”
“Had we all been asleep, I think it would have been a different outcome,” says David.
Jessica added, “There were a lot of things that didn’t always happen that happened that night in a way that meant everyone was safe.”
Normally on a Saturday, the family would have been in bed by midnight in anticipation of attending church the next day.
By 6 a.m., David had hired a company to board up their home. He and daughter Abby then headed to church, where Major David Davis, the divisional commander, preached.
“The service was definitely a blessing and I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else,” Irwin says. “I just felt we needed to give God thanks for protecting us in the way He did.
“Very quickly, we realized there’s a difference between life and possessions. Possessions are temporary, but you can’t replace your loved ones.”
While The Salvation Army is usually the one helping victims of a fire or some other disaster, this time, the opposite was true.
“Immediately the community started reaching out,” Irwin says. “It hasn’t stopped. They’ve been very loving to our whole family and wanting to make sure that we’re okay and we have what we need.
“When the tables are turned, it is very overwhelming and humbling that the community would rally together and help us in that way. We’ve been told that they’ve seen us so many times helping others that they want to help us through all of this.”
The Irwins said the community has even helped their children replace sports equipment and musical instruments. David said Abby lost her prom dress in the fire, but handled her loss with aplomb.
“She had just bought her prom dress the day of the fire and it was sitting close to where the fire originated,” David says. “It never fazed her.”
She was able to get a prom dress through the high school’s “Cinderella’s Closet” program of donated dresses.
While living in a local Holiday Inn, the Irwins have soldiered on as they look for more permanent housing. Their children have gone to school and the Irwins have arrived at the corps each morning, upheld by prayer.
The fire, which was electrical in nature, started under a downstairs desk and caused an estimated $300,000 in damage.
“We have been able to rescue a couple of things, but for the most part, everything is gone,” David says.
When David returned to the house for the first time since the fire, he made an amazing discovery. In a curio cabinet—a few feet from where the fire started—David found his family Bible.
“When I walked through the house, everything was black—except that Bible,” he says. “The cover was still white. Nothing else was white in the building. It gave me chills.
“I know that Bible was sitting there to give me comfort that God watched over my family. It just convinced me and assured me that God is always present. That’s the family Bible I grew up with. While everything else was taken and burnt in the fire, God’s Word wasn’t. We were moved by that.”
The Irwins lost many mementos in the fire, including family photos and love letters written in the 1950s by David’s father to his mother, but the Irwins remain amazingly upbeat. The family is used to overcoming tragedy; David lost his parents and a sibling in recent years.
“We recognize that we do not have anything, but we have everything in the fact that our family is together,” Jessica says. “We do not have a home, but we are not homeless.”
David adds, “It’s hard to feel angry when you feel so blessed. We could sit here and gripe about all of the things we don’t have. We lost a lot of wonderful things, a lot of wonderful memories, but I can’t be angry. I still have all that stuff in my heart and in my head.
“How can you be angry when you have a God who loves you so much that He protected you? I must live my life giving thanks if I am to ask other people to live their life like that.”
by Robert Mitchell