Eduardo Lafforgue, president of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce, attending Monday night’s virtual council meeting to talk about Queen Street patios, took the opportunity to thank the NOTL fire department for their professionalism the night his house was razed by fire.
Although Lafforgue has a very public job, he’s a private person, and hasn’t spoken publicly about the fire. At the council meeting, however, he wanted to tell the community how much he admired the quick work of Fire Chief Nick Ruller, Deputy Fire Chief Jay Plato, and all the firefighters on Anne Street early that morning.
The fire of Jan. 8 started just before 6 a.m., under the hood of a pick-up truck parked in his neighbour’s driveway.
It quickly spread to his neighbour’s roof and his adjoining townhouse, destroying the living room, and his upstairs bedroom. The glare from the fire woke him up and led him to look out the window, he says, where he saw flames coming from the truck, in a driveway very close to his house. That gave him time to wake up his wife, grab coats and a few possessions, and get out of the house through another exit.
His home fire alarm went off just as they were leaving.
“It was a miracle that I saw the fire. If I had not been sleeping in that bedroom I wouldn’t have seen it. It gave us an extra five minutes, but five minutes is a lot in that situation.”
He heard an explosion, and saw the flames reach his roof.
By the time the fire was extinguished, his home, the one most badly damaged of the two, he says, had collapsed. What is left of it will be torn down.
By the end of that day, he had been offered three choices of homes to rent, and chose one provided by Jason Clements of Niagara Property Rentals, just two blocks away, where he and his wife can stay — with their large dog — for four months.
“In 1985, I lived through the earthquake in Mexico City. Buildings were collapsing all around us. But I can say this was much more scary than that,” he says.
“We’re all collateral damage of the truck that caught fire in the middle of the night,” he adds.
“It’s been a stressful two weeks,” sorting through the emotional ramifications of the fire, as well as the paperwork and insurance to deal with.
“Some people you never expect to show up have offered help in a very spontaneous way,” he says. “We’ve had some wonderful people calling us. I am very thankful for all the people who have offered help.”
His wife, Anick Fernandez, is an artist and print-maker, planning a showing of her prints at the Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre in May. Her workshop was in the basement of the house, and thankfully her work was undamaged, says Lafforgue, as is an old printing press they have moved with them as they moved around the world.
“Our children tease us about travelling very light, with an enormous printing press, and a very large dog,” he says.
Fortunately, their 45-kilo family pet was welcome at their rental home.
The press, which weighs about 350 kilos, and will require a specialist to take it apart and move it, he says.
Their family heirlooms, and antiques they’ve collected around the world, did not fare well in the fire, he says.
“All these things that have been with you, in so many countries, are suddenly gone. It feels like losing some part of you. But really they are just material things, and we’re safe, our neighbours are safe. That’s what is important.”
In addition to the professionalism of the firefighters, one of them — he doesn’t know who — Lafforgue is extremely grateful to for his thoughtfulness.
On a table in their living room, which was destroyed, were some family photos in silver frames.
One of the firefighters, understanding their significance, grabbed the photos and carried them outside.
A neighbour took them from the firefighter to dry them, and has them still.
“That touched us a lot, that a firefighter would take the time to rescue something that was so important to us. We found that gesture fantastic, and we’re very grateful. When I called my children later that day, including my son in Belize, and asked what they would have wanted saved, all three said those photos.”
Lafforgue says he hasn’t had the courage to visit his neighbour yet to see what condition the photos are in, but whatever he discovers, he’ll be grateful to have them rescued from the fire.
He finds it interesting now, looking back, that last year’s Spirit of Niagara Chamber of Commerce Award was given to the NOTL Fire and Emergency Services, recognizing the value of their support and comfort and service to the community. “I didn’t know I would need those guys one day, some of them the same firefighters that were there that night at the award ceremony.”