Jean-Marc Lechmann may have lost his home and all of his possessions in a house fire earlier this month, but he’s got a lot to be grateful for.
The Sylvan Lake resident’s Falcon Cl. home was completely destroyed by a fire that ravaged through it in the early hours of Oct. 19, leaving him and his family displaced.
Having a fire escape plan ensured all of the home’s occupants made it out safely, Lechmann feels. And that’s just one of the many positives he’s been focusing on since that day.
“Fires are tragic, they’re horrific, they’re catastrophic — those are all the correct words to use, but it doesn’t mean that they have to be the end,” he said. “There are good stories that can come out of them.”
Since the fire, the Lechmann family has received support from every corner of the community — from minor football associations that raised funds to cover the cost of replacing lost prescribed medication, to Nabors Drilling who provided tools and clothes, and neighbours who provided home-cooked meals. Scott McDermott of Best Body Fitness is just one of many people who have helped greatly in the weeks since the fire, said Lechmann, who described the support he and his family have received as “beautiful.”
And he wants people to know that they’re grateful.
“The community has just been unreal,” he said. “People have been doing so many wonderful things for us.”
Five adults and two children were sleeping in the home at the time of the fire, including Lechmann’s wife Tammy and son Marc, 17, as well as several guests who were staying with them. Lechmann’s daughter Joanne, 13, stayed the night at a friend’s house.
One of the adult guests was awoken around 4:30 a.m. by the sound of what she thought was bacon frying. Upon exiting her room, she saw flames and began screaming, waking up the rest of the home’s occupants.
The bright scene to which Lechmann awoke led him to mistakenly believe it was daytime. It didn’t take long for him to realize what was really going on.
“By the time I looked around the corner and saw the flames, I literally started to scream, and before I could even get the first sentence out, the kitchen window had imploded,” he said.
After getting the top floor’s occupants out the front door, he saw the basement floor’s occupants coming upstairs, and yelled, “Plan B” — an indication for them to find an alternative means of exiting the house as it was no longer safe for them to do so out the front door.
“There was just too much smoke,” he said. “By the time is takes me to run from my master bedroom to the front door and turn around, the smoke had gone from halfway filling the room to just about to just about down to my knees.”
All of the home’s occupants eventually made it outside to safety, those in the basement having escaped through an egress window.
Lechmann believes mere seconds were the difference between life and death for him and his family. Without having previously practiced a fire escape plan, he has no doubt that no one inside would have made it out alive.
“We got out alive, and we literally got out by the skin of our teeth,” he said. “Luckily we practiced fire drills that we did with my son back when he was in Grade 5 that Cliff (Brausen, Sylvan Lake Fire Department chief) does every year with Sylvan Lake students. That’s what our fire department does: They educate kids right and the kids bring it home to their parents.”
Lechmann said firefighters were quick to control the fire and cordon off the scene. Once they knew every one of the home’s occupants was outside, they began salvaging every item of sentimental value they possibly could.
“They said to me, ‘What’s important in the house that you need us to save,’ and I thought that was the weirdest question, because the most important stuff to me was on the outside of the house, and at that point I really didn’t know what to say,” said Lechmann. “As they went through the home, they looked for anything that they thought was important, and they grabbed it. They were just fantastic.”
Lechmann still has trouble fully expressing his gratitude to the men and women of the Sylvan Lake Fire Department, not just for how they reacted that day, but for the work they do in general.
“People that are firemen and firewomen, they’re crazy,” he said. “Everything they do is against all instinct, to run towards fire versus run away from it. But that’s why they’re as special as they are. Those are brave men and women that do that.”
It’s still not known what caused the fire, which started on the outside of the house. But Lechmann is reminding Sylvan Lake residents that it can happen to them, and he wants them to be prepared not just by creating a fire escape plan, but also practicing it regularly.
“Without having the plans in place, we wouldn’t have made it out, there’s no question,” he said.
For now, the Lechmann family is living in a rental property. And although their home was insured, they still face tough times ahead.
Lechmann admits the next few months will be difficult, but said he doesn’t feel comfortable asking the community for help. Instead, he’s only requesting a loan of hockey goalie equipment for his son, whose own equipment was lost in the fire.
He’s also hoping anyone with photos of the family will send them to him, to help replace those lost in the fire.
For now, though, more than anything else, he’s grateful.
“Sylvan Lake is always going to be our home,” he said. “We plan to contribute to anyone else that is in need, because this is just such a wonderful community. “I couldn’t hug everybody in Sylvan Lake enough if I wanted. People have just been amazing.”
Lechmann is asking his fellow Sylvan Lake residents to practice their fire escape plans, and to text him at 403-872-7253 with their escape times.