I Smell Smoke

I Smell Smoke

It was around midnight when my wife shook me out of a dead sleep with three concerning words, “I smell smoke.”

I could smell it instantly.


We moved downstairs quickly and quietly to not wake the children and began checking rooms starting with the family room (it has a fireplace we used earlier that night). 

Smoke was hanging in the ceiling but no source of fire. 

You’d expect panic, but instead, we go to rapid problem-solving. Where is it coming from? Is any surface of the wall or floor warm to the touch? How about the ceiling? Could the flue have blown closed?

She ran to check upstairs, I put on shoes and headed outside after finding nothing inside. While she was discovering nothing to be seen upstairs, I was turning the corner to the back of our home and seeing something you never want to see – the outside of our home was on fire.

I ran inside to tell her to call 9-1-1, grabbed the fire extinguisher, and went back to the fire following the directions I’d learned from years of emergency response training in a hospital setting. Start at the bottom and sweep back and forth to put out the flame. The acronym is PASS – Pull (the pin on the fire extinguisher), Aim, Squeeze, Sweep (back and forth at the base of the fire before moving up).

It died, but it was still glowing.

We got the kids and the dog into the car and got out of the driveway for the firefighters’ easy access to the house.

They arrived in what seemed like both an instant and an eternity – police cars blocked off streets and next the fleet of fire trucks – five of them – a show of force in response that brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. 

By the time they deployed to the back of the house, it was burning again. 

I cannot express to you what it feels like to watch your home burn, but thanks to the La Porte Fire Department, the fire was put out in short order. They cut away the excess burnt wood and checked everything possible to ensure the home was safe to return to and live in. It was over in a few hours. 

We put the kids to bed.

It was after two in the morning. 

I stayed up concerned something could still be smoldering, waiting to spark back on fire despite the work the firefighters did. 

Then the what-if thoughts happened. The how-lucky-were-we-it-didn’t thoughts. The how-close-this-could-have-been thoughts.

Today, we’re at the easy part. Insurance adjusters, fire department reports, construction quotes, and time. I work for a company that provides flexibility when you need it, so I can manage my emergency and do my job. 

I’m lucky. 

For a great many reasons, my family is very lucky. 

According to the insurance company’s fire inspector, had we not smelt it and taken action, the fire would have moved up the back wall, over the room of the second floor, and some pretty serious things would have happened afterward. 

That room is our bedroom. 

We might not have been able to respond and help our kids. 

So many things come with realizing just how lucky we were.

This series of articles is about leadership and although this article might not seem, on its face, about leadership – it is. 

Remember your team when they are in crisis. My CFO and COO immediately reached out to me. What do you need? Is everyone okay? Sometimes that’s all you need, to know you’ve got that support while you deal with the unexpected. That breeds loyalty and connection like nothing else.   

When people see life change in an instant, make sure you are there – even if it’s just a text to see if they need anything. No expectations, just kindness.

It matters.