Guardian angels: Local nonprofit helps families in aftermath of house fires

The fire had taken everything.

Brittany Painter often thinks back to that blaze. She was 13 years old, and one of her close friends’ family suffered a house fire. They ended up losing everything. Though there were resources that could have helped them, both immediately and in the long term, they didn’t know where to go for assistance.

Someone should be available to provide that guidance after a traumatic fire, she thought.

From that passion to help those affected by fires, Painter formed Fire Angels, Inc. The organization helps families who have lost their homes due to house fires, providing families with essential needs for the first 24 to 72 hours after a fire. The nonprofit also offers resources and comfort to help a family process what they’ve went through, Painter said.

For example, an issue families may face overnight is getting necessities such as baby formula or food as some gas stations may not have it available. Fire Angels has formula and food on standby and can give it to families in need for free, instead of them paying extra, or being without it, she said.

Since the nonprofit launched in August, Fire Angels has helped several families, all with varying needs.

“God gave me the idea (of Fire Angels). In Johnson County, we have many resources for fire victims but no one knows about them,” Painter said.

Prior to forming Fire Angels, Painter had intended to help people as a firefighter. Last year the mother of six started taking classes to become one.

However, when she realized there was more to being a firefighter than fighting fires, she decided she wasn’t prepared to deal with some of the other things firefighters deal with on a day-to-day basis. Discouraged about the lost of her dream, a few months passed before an event happened which reignited her passion.

In March, Painter heard about a family whose home burned down in New Whiteland. Like Painter, the family had six kids, which struck a cord with her.

“I immediately reach out and asked what they needed,” Painter said. “They had nothing (left).”

Painter purchased clothing, food and other necessities for the family, who was now staying in a hotel. A little while later, an idea for Fire Angels came to Painter while she was driving.

If someone’s home burns down during the night, many stores are not open as late as they used to be in the past. This leaves those affected with the only option of going to a gas station for snacks or necessities, which are often more expensive then going to a store, Painter said.

Fire Angels steps in to fill that void.

When she had the idea for Fire Angels, one of the first things she did was go to the New Whiteland family she originally helped out and asked them if they wanted to join her endeavour. Painter had known the family before the fire, but they weren’t close — a situation that has changed as they’ve worked closely together on the project.

Painter also asked some other friends about joining them, as well, and Fire Angels was born.

The Seven Angels

There are seven people who make up Fire Angels board — Painter, Jenny Carrington, Jason Painter, Beck Davy, Micha Buskirk and Felisha and Zachary Morris — and everyone on the board is someone Painter knows.

Care coordinator Felisha Morris and fire department liaison Zachary Morris are the ones who make first contact with a family after suffering a house fire. They provide support and comfort to the affected family, and have them fill out intake forms to get the assistance process started.

Painter and Jenny Carrington, Fire Angels vice president, gather supplies, and then Painter delivers them to the family and sees if they need anything else, Painter said. They are assisted by secretary/treasurer Jason Painter, resource director Davy and events coordinator Buskirk.

“(Then) we reach out to them over the next few days to see if we can connect them to other resources,” Painter said. “We try to accommodate every family.”

Every fire department in Johnson County is aware of the Fire Angels and their work. Whenever departments are working house fires that may displace a family, the organization are contacted by the county’s 911 dispatchers or by a fire chief, Painter said.

As care coordinator for Fire Angels, Felisha Morris shows up to fire scenes to help families with immediate needs after a fire. Often, 911 dispatchers will call her once a residential fire is marked “working” from a fire department, she said.

“Once I am on scene, I go through a checklist of things that the family may need and offer support any way that I can,” Morris said. “I stay on scene with the family and wait for our other board members to bring those immediate necessities.”

While Felisha Morris usually only helps on the scene of a fire, she sometimes helps with families with meals the following day, she said.

Carrington, who Painter calls the backbone of the operation, has known Painter for years. Carrington’s and Painter’s sons played baseball together and after a while they became friends, Carrington said.

When Painter asked Carrington if she wanted to help with Fire Angels, Carrington’s answer was immediate.

“When (Painter) had the idea for Fire Angels, I was like ‘Yes, how can I help,” she said.

As vice president, Carrington lends support to Painter whenever she needs, and helps facilitate and coordinate Fire Angels’ operations. Additionally she is one of the organizations’ on-site coordinators, and goes out to fire scenes to offer assistance to affected families.

Right now Carrington has also set aside a dedicated room in her Greenwood home for all of Fire Angels supplies. The room is filled with several totes containing everything from food to fresh apparel to trash bags. Fire Angels gives out the trash bags to families whose clothes may be damaged but salvagable after a fire.

If the clothes are salvageable, they take them to Carriage Cleaners, one of the nonprofits partners, to help get them clean, Carrington said.

When Fire Angels first began, Painter was the one paying for everything families received. Now, however, the nonprofit has been sponsored and received donations from local businesses, Painter said.

In addition to Carriage Cleaners, supporters include Primary Grounds, Energy Spot, Madison Avenue Family Dental, Cross Country Mortgage and Emmanuel Church Franklin, as well as many other businesses who have helped Fire Angels with getting supplies, she said.

The Joy of Giving

Painter’s favorite part of Fire Angels is the joy she gets out of giving and helping those in need during a difficult time. No one who is on the Fire Angels board gets paid for what they provide, she said.

“We are all parents; we own our own businesses,” Painter said. “We are extremely busy but this is our number one priority.”

So far this year, Fire Angels has responded to several house fires. While it has been devastating to see people in our communities go through such a traumatic event, the response afterward is moving, Carrington said.

“Fire Angels, firefighters and communities have rallied behind the people affected,” she said. “As awful as it was, it’s awe inspiring to see the response.”

For Felisha Morris, who lives in Whiteland, being able to help Johnson County residents is close to her heart. Everyone on the Fire Angels board put their all into the organization, she said.

“It’s very close to our hearts as some of have personally experienced a fire or have worked in the fire service. We just want to help,” Morris said. “We thrive off of word of mouth and donations.”

Fire Angels only services Johnson County, but in the future Painter hopes they will be able to provide aid to surrounding counties. In the future, the nonprofit is also planning to host events to help with donations and other assistance. Next year, they will host a 5K run at Whiteland High School. The fundraising run, dubbed “THE FIRE RUN,” will take place on May 21 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Carrington said.

The most important thing for the nonprofit is the services they provide, which is completely free for victims of house fires.

“Everything we do when we are on scene is completely free to them,” Painter said. “Everything is free for families.”