Feature: Heather Tullio endured fire that destroyed her home

by Abbie Trombly

“I was just immediately awake…like oh my god, life and death,” said Heather Tullio.

Four and a half years ago Tullio, a Communications professor at Franklin Pierce, experienced a fire that destroyed her nearly fully renovated home.

Tullio’s home was two days away from the outside being totally renovated. The painters were in the process of staining the logs. The stain they were using was oil based, and was clearly marked flammable.  One of the painters gathered up all of the rags used for the stain and tossed them in a pile on the back porch. Early the next morning, the pile of rags spontaneously combusted.

Tullio’s 7th grade son Oliver was awake and making hot chocolate in the kitchen. He noticed the flames on the back porch shortly after five a.m. and ran to alert his father who was also awake at the time. He began yelling to Tullio, and daughter Lilly. They all ran outside shoeless into the cold September morning.

Tullio was running on adrenaline. She made sure everyone was out of the house, and ran back inside to grab her cell phone to call 911.

Police and firefighters were there within minutes, and the Tullios went over to their neighbor’s house while they battled the flames.

(photo: Heather Tullio)

All of their belongings were declared a total loss. The house was still standing, but everything inside was black. “We probably kept ten percent of what was in the house and tried to clean it,” said Tullio. “Some of it is in boxes in our new basement.”

Tullio learned a lot of lessons from the fire. “You have two minutes once the smoke alarm goes off to get out of the building, or you’re dead from the smoke.” The firefighters said they did the right thing by getting out of the house, and not going back in to save some of their belongings. “I would recommend to anyone if you’re in a restaurant, or at school, if the fire alarm goes off, get out,” said Tullio.

Tullio also hired public adjusters to advocate on their behalf with the insurance company. “There’s a lot that you’re eligible for from the insurance company, but you only get it if you ask for it, and most people don’t know what to ask for,” said Tullio.

It took two years to rebuild after the fire. The basement and the first floor deck were not damaged, so the new house was built on the same footprint. Between the damages to the home and their belongings, they were well insured and were able to replace their possessions and build a home.

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