Burned Out But Back on Track

Howard Boyd was shaken awake at 1:30 a.m. last October by his 15 year-old son.

“Dad, I think there’s a fire,” said the teenager.

Howard Boyd

When he pulled off the oxygen mask he uses to help him sleep, Howard fumbled with his cane and shuffled into his apartment’s front room . The electric baseboard heater was on fire.

“I tried to smother the flames with a blanket. I didn’t know at first that the flames were inside the wall,” Boyd said.

As the flames spread, the pair barely had time to dress and get out. Boyd’s son grabbed their laptop computer. Everything else they owned was gone.

“All we could do was stand there and watch it go. My neighbor called the fire department. They were there in minutes,” Boyd recalled.

After the fire was doused at the West 11 th Street apartment in Medford , Fire Marshall John Patterson discovered 20 and 30-amp fuses in a fuse box designed for 15-amp fuses.

In his report, Patterson wrote that the higher current likely caused the aluminum to melt, which probably set the carpet on fire.

Had the fire been discovered minutes later, Boyd might not be alive today.

The 55 year-old broke several bones in his feet and spine in an accident 20 years before the fire. After more than a dozen reconstructive surgeries, he is now able to walk with a cane, but only for a minute at a time before fatigue and pain force him to stop. He uses a wheelchair to get around on longer trips.

Because of his health problems, Boyd is not able to work. Before his accident, he was a high lead logger.

Boyd had been living in his apartment for a year when the fire took everything he owned. He had moved to Southern Oregon three years earlier to be near family while he underwent chemotherapy for liver cancer. Today his cancer is in remission. He finished his last course of chemo four months before the fire.

Several days after the fire, a neighbor who was herself a former Help Now! client, referred Boyd to Help Now!

According to the neighbor, the previous residents of Boyd’s apartment had complained to All Cities Property Management about electrical problems, but nothing was fixed. They moved out.

The Fire Marshall’s report and the neighbor’s statements provided a compelling case pointing to the apparent role of the property management company in creating the situation that led to the fire.

Neither the apartment management nor the property’s owners, however, stepped forward to help Boyd. They merely refunded his security deposit and prorated rent for the part of the month when he could no longer live in his apartment.

Boyd and his son were dependent on charitable and government assistance to get back on track before Help Now! intervened. Boyd was reluctant to take on the property management company and the owners to ask them for anything.

But Help Now! did.

Step #1: Assist Boyd in organizing an inventory of his prior personal effects, including values and years purchased, and receipts for temporary lodging and food following the fire.

Step #2: Help Now! presented the itemized list to the insurance company of the property’s owners. Shortly thereafter, Boyd had over $8,100 in his hands to furnish his new apartment.

“We got everything money-wise we possibly could have gotten for Howard, according to our attorney partner, Dennis Black, who advised in this matter,” explained Larry Kahn, Help Now! Executive Director.

Help Now! works with attorney partners, but does not give legal advice.

“We are filling a void between lay people and the legal world. Help Now! is unique in this way,” Kahn added.

For others who may have suffered through a fire or other loss, Kahn offers this advice.

“If you’ve suffered a loss, does it make sense that someone else might be responsible? In Howard’s case, the owner had fire insurance, which included liability coverage. Tenants can also protect themselves even if no one else is responsible for a loss, through a renter’s policy,” Kahn said.

With your support, we can continue to make a difference for people in crisis.


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