Ray Duckler: Burned out after being burned out, couple try to cope
John and Lisa Masse at the Boulders Motel and Cottages in Holderness. The couple lost their home in a June 10, 2014 fire and have faced many obstacles since then.
(GEOFF FORESTER Monitor staff)
Aftermath of fire at John and Lisa Masse's home on Queen Street in Boscawen on June 10, 2014.
A drawing by John Masse of the rented house that burned on June 10th and the escape routes that their children took after going into the burning house.
Once all their possessions had burned to a crisp last month, John and Lisa Masse really got hot.
Since that day June 10, when their home in Boscawen went up like charcoal-soaked lighter fluid, the path to normalcy has been harder than the mad dash three family members made out the front door.
That’s why the couple are here, introducing themselves and their two sons, A.J., 14, and 12-year-old Eric, to you. They want you to prepare, just in case your life takes this sort of unimaginable turn for the worse.
Like theirs did.
They want to guide you through the needed steps, mentioning things like spiral notebooks and documentation and itemization and receipts, receipts, receipts.
Take pictures of everything you own now, before fire pushes you into the dark. Give a copy of your insurance policy to a friend, a family member, anyone you trust who doesn’t live in your house, and back it up beyond your own computer system.
Without proper planning and knowledge, John and Lisa say, you’d better stock up on aspirin, too, because you’re going to get a headache.
Also, be prepared for criticism from people you thought you knew. Via the internet, they’ll tell you to stop whining.
“We’ve learned a lot from this,” said Lisa, an EMT and first aid instructor.
The need to communicate takes priority over everything else, and that’s where Lisa began. “The first thing to replace,” she said, “is your smartphone.”
They told their story while on vacation at Boulders Motel and Cottages in Holderness. Lisa, 46, has been going there since she was a little girl in Westford, Mass., so the owner gave the family a break and rented it to them for free.
That’s the other part of this story, the part about kindness shown by people who care. John, 50, is a lieutenant at the New Hampshire State Prison, and his colleagues have collected $4,000 to help. The gofundme website has contributed another $8,000, and the Penacook Rescue Squad bought the boys clothing.
Neighbors and strangers were there for them, too. The late-afternoon fire, its cause still undetermined, began in their rental house’s garage.
At the time, Lisa and A.J. were in the living room and Eric was down the hall, watching TV in the master bedroom. John was working.
John brought tissues to Lisa recently, mindful that she cries while recounting what happened.
“I heard a snap, crackle and pop,” Lisa said, her eyes misting. “I said that’s too close.”
They looked outside and saw the garage burning, black smoke everywhere, glass beginning to crack, their lives in danger.
From there, A.J. ran outside with one dog and Lisa tossed their other dog out the door, then screamed to warn Eric, who figured he’d done something wrong when he heard his mother yell his name.
They all ran outside, the kids in shorts and socks, but A.J. didn’t see his brother, so he ran back inside to get him. “I don’t know what I was thinking,” A.J. said.
“That was surprising because we fight a lot,” added Eric.
Before realizing Eric was safe, Lisa ripped away a screen and punched a hole in a window. A passing motorist, Bret Richardson of Boscawen, kicked in the door and rescued one cat while a neighbor saved a pet lizard.
Lisa stopped Richardson from going back in to save the other cat, which was never found.
John, called at work, battled rush-hour traffic and the congestion caused by emergency vehicles at the scene. “Three miles away, I started smelling smoke,” John said.
He arrived to chainsaws buzzing and his home smoldering, a total loss.
The Masses now live at the Residence Inn, for $220 per night, paid by $10,000 from their insurance. Lisa can’t sleep, waking three to four times a night, sometimes screaming after a nightmare in which A.J. has died because he went back inside to save his brother.
“I relive it every night,” she said.
The nightmare has extended elsewhere, and, for the most part, John and Lisa say, it starts and ends with insurance matters.
For one thing, they say immediate confusion surfaced when they called GEICO and were told their policy had been underwritten by another company, Assurant.
They asked their insurer for a copy of their renter’s policy. Lisa says the conversation went something like this:
Insurer: “Read your policy.”
Lisa: “It went up in flames.”
Insurer: “Use your laptop to find it.”
Lisa: “That went up in flames, too.”
From there, the couple say the bad dream continued. They say it took nine days simply to receive less than half the money they needed for hotel expenses, after they’d already laid out nearly $5,000.
They say their phone calls often were never returned. They say they were asked to itemize all of their possessions, a process that included where they had bought things and when.
They say their belongings, valued by an assessor at $116,000, were depreciated to $56,000, and they say they were never told to keep the receipts for living expenses after the fire.
Luckily, or smartly, Lisa had kept all receipts, as well as all documents, phone numbers, claim numbers, names and memos, filling 36 pages in a loose-leaf binder, which became her Bible as she sought peace in her life.
Comcast, the couple say, wanted a $75 deposit for their modem, used for the internet. They had a choice to do something else.
“We could go into the house and get the burnt modem,” John said, shaking his head.
So they did, searching the house, charred, wet and dangerous, and shoveling the modem and the debris surrounding it into a plastic bag. They plopped down the bag, with burnt, splintered edges of wood sticking through the sides, onto the Comcast office desk.
“Here’s your modem,” John says he told the Comcast employee.
Elsewhere, the water company kept sending bills after the water had been turned off.
And then there were the mean-spirited posts on Facebook, sent by people Lisa had friended. Stop whining, she says they wrote. Quit looking for sympathy, she says they told her.
“I finally had to shut it down,” Lisa said.
Their ordeal isn’t through. They’ll move into a new rental house next month in Manchester, meaning A.J. and Eric must switch schools.
They’ll build and rebuild, hoping the memory and heat and smell from that day last month one day fades.
Eric, articulate well beyond his 12 years, was asked how he’s coping.
“People see it on TV and they think people get over it so quickly,” Eric said. “You don’t. We’re picking up slowly, but it’s always in the back of our minds.”