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Ray Duckler

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.<br/><br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER Monitor staff)

    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.

    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.

    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.

  • 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.<br/><br/><br/>(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.

There’s more.

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.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

DirtyLarry, You couldn't be more wrong. I have absolutely zero affiliation to Residence Inn, or any hotel for that matter. My "defensive" tone you detected comes from trying to protect my SISTER from all the negativity that has surrounded her and the constant judgements from strangers (such as yourself). It has taken an unnecessary toll on her emotions and her family. Did you not read that in the article. Simply putting a generalized "disclaimer" in your intial comment does not preclude you from being a part of that group. A wise person once said, "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all". I can see you were initally trying to help with suggesting other places, but Lisa and John have done everything and looked everywhere. Rather than passing judgement on my SISTER and her family, please take up your issues with these hotel chains that I am NOT employed with. Continuing to tell my SISTER that she should've demanded more/better and making her feel like a failure is not helpful. Thank you.

Sister McPhail, I apologize for not replying to your 08/01 post earlier, but just saw it. Well, it would've been prudent for you to make your relationship to the Masse family known the first time around, but it doesn't change the motive on my original post. And that was to HELP your sister's family; not judge them. For one, I was hoping the Residence Inn could be shamed into cutting the Masse family a better deal, and still believe the hotel helped no one but themselves here. But your attempt to twist my post into some kind of harsh judgment upon the family tells me you're not ready for prime time. How is it you're not privy that the general public has almost zero-tolerance for the self-persecuted? Anyone with such a fragile psyche should find a bubble to live in, sister McPhail. It's not the world, it's you.

DirtyLarry, I am sorry that happened to your family. It shouldn't happen to anyone. It appears you can relate to the frustrations experienced with the insurance companies. It is very devastating. I want to address your concern about the cost of their temporary accommodations. While on the surface it may seem pricey to you, they have a kitchen area to cook their own meals plus the hotel offers complimentary dinners/breakfasts so that saves on the cost of eating out every meal if they were to stay at a place like Days Inn, etc. There is also an indoor pool, giving the boys a chance to swim/play/exercise since they no longer live near their friends, and no longer have a yard space or any of their outdoor activity equipment lost in the fire. Since it's a Residence Inn, the other people who stay there typically aren't one-nighters so they are able to develop relationships with other guests...support is an important social piece to the recovery process, as I'm sure you know. So, a little more expensive? Perhaps. But the amenities are priceless during this difficult time. I hope you can appreciate my points. While they may make mistakes along their recovery journey, and not make the best decisions according to others, having never walked in their shoes I know they need a lot of kind words, love and support, not judgements. I hope you and your family are back to some semblance of normalcy now and I wish you nothing but the best.

mmcphail, You didn't say, but your defensive reply sounds as if it is coming from a staff member at the same Residence Inn (RI) where the Masse family is currently holed up; Front Desk Manager, or General Manager, would be my guess. If so, shame on you, because Residence Inn has, in my estimation, McPhailed here. At the rate of $220/night, they will burn up their $56K insurance money in about 36 weeks ($220 x 7 = $1540/week!). As I wrote to Lisa Masse below, I feel RI missed an opportunity here to hit a public relations home run. A goodwill rate of $500/week, capped at 'x' amount of weeks, would've not only been more humane, but be paid back with interest from the scrutinizing public. To allay any fear of setting a precedent that would bankrupt the property, it could be a one-shot-deal emergency rate. After all, it isn't everyday a family gets burned out of their home in the Lakes Region. You can't buy the kind of advertising it would generate. I was in the biz for five years, total. Started as a weekend night auditor at a large property that had 140 overnight rooms, and fifteen (15) function rooms/halls. Left there as Assistant GM. Later returned to the biz, and did similar with a different chain; started as relief auditor, left as Sales Director. I know a little bit about the hospitality business (not that it should take such in this case).. Residence Inn isn't helping anyone but themselves at $220/night. If you're management staff at this property, please think it over. Help this family while they're down and out. If you're not staff, then as Emily Litella used to say, "Never mind.".

Can you please tell us why on earth you think where a family stays as they rebuild their life is somehow yours to judge or even any of your business??? You seem to have missed the point of the article. These people put themselves out there so the rest of us could benefit from their experience. (I have and I thank them for it. I plan to take pictures and keep them outside the home, for starters.) The family didn't put themselves out there for your amusement. Perhaps we can all get together and start criticizing your choice of movers and explain how WE would have chosen another, better moving company because, after all, we're soooo much smarter than you are. You really should get some help in dealing with your obviously massive insecurities.

Amusement? Seems you might the one who has missed the point here, Ducklady. You may also be incorrect on the motive, if any, behind this article. As far as the fire that took my family's possessions goes, you have missed the mark, yet again. I was a minor at the time, and the USAF picked the mover. Ducklady, you must have very small feet. I say so for the ease you manifest in jamming them into your mouth.

Fire is pretty devastating. It happened to my family during a move, of all times. The entire moving van went up in flames, somehow. We never got a plausible explanation for the fire, just a $4200 check for everything we owned. The amount was painfully inadequate, and took several weeks to arrive. We lived in a sparsely furnished house during the interim. I don't want to join the negative commenters, but was there not a better alternative than that $220/night at a Residence Inn? Know there are other hotels/motels up that way, and maybe one that would give them a weekly rate (even if it meant breaking with policy, given the extenuating circumstances). Still can't see the daily rack rate being anywhere near $220/night at the Econolodge, or Days Inn, for instance. Will not list the other properties in the area, as I have to believe the Masses have scoped out their options, but $220/night...jeez-louise. On the bright side, A.J. and Eric might have a future as a comedy duo, as evidenced by their exchange regarding A.J. going back in the house after his brother; "I don't know what I was thinking.", countered by Eric's, "That was surprising because we fight a lot.". LOL.

Just to let you know, they were they ONLY hotel willing to take our dogs and our cat which also survived the fire. They have full kitchens so we can cook our meals instead of having to eat out every single meal, every single day. Boarding the animals would have been way more expensive. Believe me, we did what was best for our families under the circumstances. BTW - That is the lowest rate they offer there.

Lisa, I suspected as much, and too bad, too. I spent five (long) years in the hospitality industry, management at that, and some property/chain missed an opportunity to hit a public relations home run here. Red Roof would've taken the pets, and they do weekly rates (perhaps not in season, but again, extenuating circumstances should prevail here). As you undoubtedly already know, the closest Red Roof Inn is in Loudon. I still think Residence Inn, for all the amenities they offer...the social benefits notwithstanding (see mmcphail's post above)...cudda, shudda done you guys a little better here. Much better, in fact. Of course, being the ONLY property in the area that takes pets, they didn't have to. I know from whence I speak in this regard (again, please see my reply to mmcphail). Bottom Line; while you may've lost a pet, and they are members of the family, you are otherwise all intact as a unit. Everything else is incidental by comparison. I do wish you folks well.

Please. Tell our reading audience how it feels to be omniscient.

Omniscient? I couldn't begin to, Ducklady. My people are Methodists. Otherwise, your recent salvo of concentrated posts should qualify in that regard. Fire away. Enlighten the masses, babe. (c;

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