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November 18, 2002

Four-year-old called a hero

From: Chambersburg Gazette, PA
Nov. 18, 2002

Child alerts mother to fire
by TERRY TALBERT Staff Writer

Nov. 18 – Marissa Gibbons doesn’t want to think what might have happened Friday morning if her 4-year-old son Hunter hadn’t alerted her to a fire in the house.

“We might not have made it out in time,” she says. “He’s my little hero.”

As it turned out, the two were able to escape their burning home in Amberson uninjured.

The house is owned by Marissa’s parents, Serena and Wayne Gibbons. She and Hunter live there, and share a bedroom in the home.

Marissa’s parents were both at work when the fire broke out in the basement. She and Hunter were in their bedroom at about 7 a.m. when Hunter smelled something.

“We have separate beds in the room,” Marissa says. “He woke up and crawled into bed with me, and said, ‘Mom, something stinks.’”

Marissa, 25, had been lying in bed awake, but didn’t think much about the smell, because there was always an odor that came from the basement woodstove after it was stoked.

“I kind of got used to it,” she said. “I didn’t think anything of it.”

But when Hunter seemed concerned, Marissa got up and opened their bedroom door – to find a house filled with smoke.

“I told him to stay in bed, and I went downstairs,” she says. “I saw flames coming from the ceiling.”

The smoke was so bad in the basement that she had to get down where the air was fresher in order to breathe.

At that point, Marissa ran back upstairs, put some pants on her son, took him out of the house and put him in her car. “There was frost ... It was really cold. I turned on the heater and told him to stay there,” she says

Marissa, who is hearing impaired, then went back in the house and called 911 on her TTY line.

After that, using the regular telephone, she called a friend’s house, hoping that someone was home. “I just screamed ‘my house is on fire!!’,” Marissa recalls.

Friends alerted by Marissa called her parents at work.

Word in the close-knit community spread quickly, and Marissa’s friends showed up at the house to do what they could to help. Initially they tried to use fire extinguishers to battle the blaze, but their efforts were futile.

Within several minutes of the 911 call, fire trucks were on the scene. The Red Cross arrived shortly thereafter, to offer the family help.

Certain things about that morning stand out for Marissa. Most involve Hunter.

“One of my best friends who is an EMT took him in the ambulance and played with him,” she recalls. “The Red Cross was there right away. They gave Hunter a teddy bear.”

She says she wasn’t afraid when she discovered the fire. There was too much to think about, and do. “It was more adrenalin,” she says. “God was with me.”

Marissa says her son has trouble sleeping now, because he’s afraid that if he nods off, there will be another blaze. Otherwise, she says he seems to be doing pretty well.

Hunter talked today about what happened Friday morning. “I woke up and was going to watch TV, but I decided not to,” he recalls. “I smelled something. I was in bed, and I woke mommy up ... Dumb fires. I hate fires.”

Unfortunately for Hunter, the basement of the home was virtually destroyed, and he lost most of his toys and all of his books to the blaze. “Toys? I lost a lot of ‘em. They got burned,” he says. “Sometimes it makes me bawl.”

As for whether he considers himself a hero, Hunter’s response is a definitive “no.” In fact, he doesn’t even like the word, for some reason.

“I don’t think he understands what ‘hero’ means,” Marissa explains.

He may not know it now, but Hunter will have plenty of opportunity in the future to learn the meaning of heroism. “I want to be a fireman when I grow up,” he says without hesitation.

Serena Gibbons says that the basement of her home was destroyed, and although firemen managed to save the upper section of the house, its contents are badly smoke-damaged. That includes the family’s clothing.

Today, Marissa and Hunter are staying with her brother, while Serena and Wayne Gibbons are staying with friends. Serena says it will take approximately four months to have the house, which was insured, rebuilt.

“We’re just very thankful that no one was hurt,” she says.

The fire marshal said it appears the woodstove was working properly, according to Serena. “They said it looked like the (first) floor joists had over time chemically broken down, and when the heat from the woodstove hit it, it was like spontaneous combustion,” she says.

The fact that Serena’s birthday was Saturday, and the holidays are fast approaching, haven’t made Friday’s fire any easier to bear. “There goes Christmas and Thanksgiving,” says Marissa.

But despite their losses, the Gibbons family continues to count its blessings.

“We’re getting a lot of help – from family, churches and friends – from the Red Cross,” Marissa says. “We’re just overwhelmed with how much support we’ve received.”

She says she particularly wants to thank friends George and Shawna Coble, Steve Varner, Linda Varner, Kim Chilcote, Sheryl Hammond and Bill and Rita Glass for their help.

The only problem right now is rebuilding Hunter’s library. Marissa says she would appreciate any donations of books. She said they could be dropped off at the Amberson Post Office.

Marissa says that while she and her parents are currently separated, and dealing with extensive loss of property, her family is closer now than ever before.

“This has really brought our family together,” she says. “It’s made us stronger.”

© 2001, 2002 F.Y.I. Media Group, LLC All Rights Reserved.