Family displaced after fire

— Brian Swestka Family Benefit Fund at CUSB 
Donations can be left at Law Enforcement Center or at CUSB Bank under Swestka Family Benefit Fund.
CRESCO - The Brian and Sami Swestka family is unable to live in their home after a fire on Feb. 2, 2021.
The Cresco Fire Department was paged to a house fire at 9094 Yankee Avenue at 4:30 a.m. 
Brian was awakened by the home’s smoke detectors and was able to get himself and their three young children safely out and called 911. 
The call to 911 was actually answered by Sami, who is employed as a Howard County Dispatcher at the Law Enforcement Center, and was on shift at the time.
All four family members were sleeping on the second story of the home at the time of the fire. Fire Chief Neal Stapelkamp noted the escape was quite remarkable as Brian needed to rescue their three children while navigating through rapidly-deteriorating conditions, as the home was rapidly filling with toxic smoke. 
The chief added, “In lieu of the obvious, it was a very stressful phone call received by Sami from her husband, Brian on 911. Sami conducted herself remarkably well, with great composure, while providing great detail and accurate information.” 
Cresco Fire arrived on scene to find an active basement fire. Entry was made by Crew 1 to find the seat of the fire and extinguish the basement, while Crew 2 entered the upper two levels to ensure there was no fire extension. 
Once the fire was controlled and extinguished, the home was ventilated of smoke, overhauled and checked for hot spots. The home sustained moderate fire damage to the basement, with very heavy heat and smoke damage throughout the remainder. The Fire Department was on scene for approximately three hours. 
Stapelkamp stated, “This is a great example and story of the fact that working smoke detectors save lives!”
The Cresco Fire Department was assisted by the Howard County Sheriff Department, Regional Health Services Ambulance, Cresco Fire Dispatch and MiEnergy. 
After the fire
The family has been displaced from their residence.
Proving that living in a small town is best, the community has come together. Clothing has been dropped off for the family. Sheriff Tim Beckman said, “Household items can be brought to the Law Enforcement Center since the family has no other storage.
Dave and Pam Daley took a home off the market to give them a place to stay. In addition, a fund has been set up at CUSB Bank under Swestka Family Benefit Fund. 
Sami said having the fire was a real eye-opener. Although the family was prepared, she feels they could have done even more, such as checking smoke detectors more frequently. “If we have anything to say, it is to make sure you have working smoke detectors. We want to educate the public about how important that is.”
The tragedy has made each person in the family think about what happened, including five-year-old Beckett. The couple, who are expecting a fourth child in a few weeks, are always very open and honest with their children. They explained to Beckett what had happened and what could have happened. 
The afternoon after the fire, they let him look through the window to see his melted toys. Sami said, “He remembers how the smoke hurt his throat. He also remembered talking about fires in school.” The next day, Beckett wanted to go back to school. “I just need to tell my friends. I want to tell them what you need to do, and that you don’t go back in.”
In a Facebook post to friends, Brian wrote, “Words can’t describe how thankful we are.” 
He noted how Sami had started as a dispatcher a little over a year earlier and did a great job keeping it together and getting everyone dispatched.
Sami credited her training in keeping calm. “You are in a certain mindset when you are in that chair. I took the information, and I had two seconds to gather myself before I sent the call out. We have to keep people safe — the volunteer fire fighters, the deputies and the ambulance service.”
Brian explained the fire was contained in the utility room in the basement. “While the fire was mostly contained to that room, the entire home suffered extensive heat, smoke and soot damage. Neal and a couple others on the fire department not only said, but showed me how lucky we were. 
“There were a couple windows in the basement that were ready to break out. If they would have, it’s possible the fire would have had the oxygen it needed to spread out of control. One other key point they showed me, is that some of the PEX waterlines had melted, allowing water to spray and help keep the fire at bay.”
He credits Amy Bollman and CIA Insurance with getting the ball rolling for donations, including the home donated from the Daleys. Sami said, “The house was truly a Godsend.”
Brian concluded his post by suggesting, “Please check your smoke detectors. They save lives! I’m not sure if I would be making this post today if ours hadn’t worked. Also, check your homeowners policy to see what exactly is covered and your coverage limits. A heartfelt thank you to everyone who has helped us these past few days.”
What to do during a fire
CRESCO - The Cresco Fire Department responded to two fires (a garage on Jan. 30 and a house on Feb. 2) in three days. There were no serious human injuries in either case, but it could have been very bad.
The Brian and Sammi Swestka family did exactly what they should. 
• They had working smoke detectors! This likely saved the lives of Brian and their three children.
• He roused his family and made sure everyone was outside.
• He called 911.
• He left valuables behind (including a family pet) in order to save his family. 
• They went outside and stayed outside. “Do not return for anything,” said Fire Chief Neal Stapelkamp. “This can be fatal.”
He reminds everyone:
~ Have working smoke detectors on all levels of the home.
~ Have one meeting spot in the event all occupants do not exit together. By doing so, you can have accountability.
It is also a good idea to clear snow away from fire hydrants on your property to assist the fire department; be sure to also have carbon monoxide detectors in the home; and clean snow and ice from vent areas of your gas meters.


Cresco Times

Phone: 563-547-3601
Fax: 563-547-4602

Cresco TPD
214 N. Elm Street
Cresco, IA 52136

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