U-CF schools chief
By FRAN MAYE
Israel Rivera and his family are alive today because of a smoke detector.
It began Jan. 15, about 4 o’clock in the morning, when Rivera heard a series of “pops,” followed by the loud screech of the smoke alarm at his Kennett Township home, a bi-level located near the intersection of Creek and Hillendale roads.
The 43-year-old native of Puerto Rico and his four children and his wife were all in bed, sound asleep.
“The alarm was crazy beeping,” he said. “Then I saw smoke. The first thing I thought to do was to get my family out.”
First he went to his teen-age daughter’s bedroom, got them out, and carried his 3-year-old son Jayden in his arms and made his way down the stairs to safety. With his family safely out, he saw the blaze spread. The heat was intense and it was clear the fire was out of control.
Rivera tried desperately to use a home fire extinguisher to put it out. He got a ladder and climbed up to the bedroom window.
“It was just too deep,” he said. “I tried to shut out the fire, but there was too much heat, it was too hot. It was inside the walls.”
Fire companies were on the scene in minutes. Rivera and his family watched helplessly outside as their home went up in smoke. The TV, the furniture, the family mementoes – all destroyed.
Rivera said he is certain that he wouldn’t be alive today if not for the smoke detector. Every year in the United States, about 2,500 people die in home fires, and two-thirds of those fires are in homes with no smoke alarms working, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Though the Rivera home was insured, the insurance only covers rebuilding expenses, not housing while rebuilding takes place; nor does it cover cost of items inside the home.
The day after the fire, the Rivera family discovered the kind of caring community they live in. Local civic organizations rallied to find them a small apartment in Delaware. And a local non-profit organization has provided the family with a small house in the Kennett area, free of charge, including utilities, until they can move back into their rebuilt home.
And after word of Rivera’s plight hit the newspapers and social media, the community responded by sending in clothing, gift cards and even furniture.
Rivera, who works full-time at the grounds and maintenance department for the Unionville School District, and works another 25 hours a food prep worker, said he was heartened to see all the help he received.
Teachers and administrators at Unionville-Chadds Ford and Kennett Consolidated school district started drives to gather goods for the family.
Rivera said he was especially grateful to John Sanville, superintendent of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District.
“I don’t know how I can ever pay him back,” Rivera said. “I want to thank him for all he did for me and my family.”
But Sanville downplayed his role.
“This is not about me,” he said. “It’s really about the community coming together to help one of our own. It was a very humbling experience for me to see how generous this community is when people are in need. We put out a plea for help, and we had to tell people no more clothes. We had a conference room full of clothes. The response has been unbelievable. This is a great community.”
Rivera’s three teen-age children attend Kennett High School, and the help he received from teachers, students and staff there was overwhelming, Rivera said.
Rivera has worked on the grounds crew at Unionville for 18 years, Sanville said, adding that Rivera is one of the hardest workers he has seen.
“I just want to provide for my family,” Rivera said. “I get four hours of sleep a night because I have to take care of my family. Everything happens for a reason, and I think God has a plan for me.”
The cause of the fire was found to be an electrical malfunction. It started in an electrical outlet in one of Rivera’s daughter’s bedroom.
Meanwhile, Rivera said he is humbled by the help he received from the community, especially from Kennett and Unionville schools.
“I know I can’t do it now, but someday, when anyone who has helped me needs help, I will help them,” he said. “I just want to say thank you to everyone for helping me.”
Local civic organizations aided in the effort as well. The Longwood Rotary Club gathered a group of volunteers to help clean out the house before the Rivera family moved in.
“There are so many nice people here,” Rivera said.