Community support keeps fire victim optimistic
In the local vernacular, the Jan. 19 fire which destroyed the building on the corner of E. North Ave. and N. Oakland Ave. has become known as "The Pizza Man" fire, thanks to the popular eatery destroyed in the blaze.
But while the fire did destroy that business -- and three others -- it also impacted the lives of tenants who occupied 10 apartments on the building's upper floor.
For the last eight years, Dan Kern called one of those units home. The 39-year-old brewer at Water Street Brewery ran out of the building that night with the clothes on his back, his wallet, keys and cell phone.
"I reached into my coat and realized I had one glove," Kern says.
He was awakened by what sounded like an explosion downstairs. Not long after, smoke started filling his apartment and he realized what was going on.
"It was time to go," Kern says. "When the smoke came in, it came in fast. Fortunately, it woke everybody up. Had things been just a little different, the situation would have been much, much worse."
Along with his neighbors, Kern moved quickly after realizing what was happening. When he left his apartment, he found most of them already on their way out the door -- some holding their pets and in their pajamas.
Gathered across the street, they watched as firefighters broke windows while smoke billowed out of the building.
"That's when you realized it was gone," he says.
The residents were quickly ushered to a nearby McDonald's, where Red Cross workers met them to offer assistance. From that point on, at least for Kern, things have been nothing short of amazing.
Despite it all, Kern is incredibly upbeat. There's no bitterness. There's no anger -- even in the wake of news that the fire was intentionally set. There's no depression.
Not even a lack of renter's insurance has him upset.
"I gambled and lost," he says. "Maybe I can get a kickback from the insurance companies from all the people that told me they've gotten it now after hearing about what happened."
Nope, there doesn't seem to be one bit of negativity from Kern; just acceptance ... and appreciation.
A lot of that comes from the community's response. Kern can't believe the outpouring of support he's received from friends, family and even complete strangers. Donations of all kinds -- food, clothing and supplies have helped turn a nightmare scenario into something positive.
"It's been a little crazy," he says. "At first, getting displaced, you're just kind of stunned. But then, just the outpouring from the community has been overwhelming."
For the most part, things have gotten back to normal for Kern.
"A new normal," he says.
He's renting a studio apartment above Water Street Brewery, where he was able to get a month-to-month rental arrangement. He's gotten enough donations to outfit and furnish his home many times over.
"People tell me that if I already have it or don't need it to make sure it goes someplace good," Kern says. "So that's what I've been doing."
And most of all, his positive attitude, he says, comes from his personality and the realization that things could have been much, much worse.
"The way everything has gone since, I've really got no complaints," Kern says. "Yeah, it stinks, but what's the other option?"
Tonight, Kern and his former neighbors will receive checks from a benefit held last week at Twisted Fork; an event organized, in part, by the Pizza Man owners. Add that to all the donations and offers of support -- monetary, material or otherwise, and Kern feels incredibly lucky.
"You can't say thanks enough," he says. "You really can't. I can't believe it. I tell people I feel like Jimmy Stewart in 'It's A Wonderful Life;' all I can do is smile and say 'thank you'."
My heart goes out to Kern and all his former neighbors as well as those who lost their jobs. It's amazing that he is so positive. Good luck Kern and God bless. Hopefully justice will be served and some closure will follow.
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