Fire vic­tim thanks vol­un­teer re­spon­ders

Al­len­town busi­ness­man sets up fundraiser for lo­cal fire de­part­ments that fought to save his house

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Christina Tatu

Sit­ting in his back­yard, John Pe­queno points out just how badly a re­cent fire dam­aged his Up­per Nazareth Town­ship home.

From the back of the house, all that’s left is a charred black shell, re­veal­ing how the up­per floors col­lapsed into the base­ment. Pe­queno lost his beloved York­shire ter­rier, Mar­shall, and most of his pos­ses­sions to the Sept. 10 blaze at Ris­ing Sun Court.

Al­most im­me­di­ately, friends and fam­ily started ask­ing how they could help, but Pe­queno, a suc­cess­ful Al­len­town busi­ness­man, said he didn’t need the money.

In­stead, he set up a GoFundMe page to raise $15,000 for the nine lo­cal fire de­part­ments that re­sponded.

“My par­ents are from Por­tu­gal, and they al­ways taught me that you only take help when you need it,” said Pe­queno, the founder and pres­i­dent of Ideal Con­cepts, an in­surance tech­nol­ogy com­pany with head­quar­ters in Al­len­town.

The Beth­le­hem na­tive started the com­pany in 2005, not long af­ter grad­u­at­ing with a master’s de­gree in com­puter engi­neer­ing from Le­high Univer­sity. He’s lived at his home on Ris­ing Sun Court for 10 years.

Pe­queno re­called how fire­fight­ers put their lives on the line while they tried to save his home.

They ran into the house mul­ti­ple times in an ef­fort to save Mar­shall, even­tu­ally find­ing him hid­ing un­der a couch.

When Pe­queno re­mem­bered the 1,000-gal­lon propane tank in the back­yard that heats the pool and gas fire­place, a fire­fighter didn’t hes­i­tate to make sure the valve was off de­spite nearby flames that stretched 20 feet into the air.

Sev­eral days later, when Pe­queno wanted to search the rub­ble for any­thing that could be sal­vaged, seven Up­per Nazareth Fire De­part­ment mem­bers showed up to of­fer their time.

“I never re­al­ized most of these smaller- and medium-sized fire de­part­ments rely on vol­un­teers,” Pe­queno said.

In­deed, all nine de­part­ments that will ben­e­fit from the fundraiser are

com­prised of vol­un­teers.

“It’s amaz­ing. I’ve been a vol­un­teer in the fire ser­vice for close to 30 years, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen some­one af­ter a tragedy stepping up and not ac­cept­ing the help from the com­mu­nity, but spread­ing it out to the vol­un­teers who risk their lives and pretty much rely on fundrais­ing to make it work,” said Jeff Fassl, pres­i­dent and as­sis­tant chief of the Up­per Nazareth Fire De­part­ment.

Al­though Fassl’s de­part­ment re­ceives some tax­payer dol­lars, most of their money comes from do­na­tions that go to­ward pur­chas­ing fire equip­ment and even fuel for the trucks, he said.

Up­per Nazareth Fire Chief Don­ald Seiple es­ti­mates the de­part­ment re­ceives about $24,000 a year in do­na­tions from a yearly fundraiser.

Up­per Nazareth is lucky that it has 40 ac­tive mem­bers de­spite an on­go­ing, statewide short­age of vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers and emer­gency re­spon­ders.

Jerry John­son, as­sis­tant chief with the Vig­i­lance Hose Com­pany No. 1 in Nazareth also said it’s the first time he en­coun­tered such a fundrais­ing ef­fort.

“Mr. Pe­queno pretty much lost ev­ery­thing he owned in the fire, in­clud­ing his dog, and his first thought is to raise money for the fire de­part­ments around here,” John­son said.

There were 22 vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers from John­son’s de­part­ment at the blaze. John­son es­ti­mates be­tween 20% to 25% of his de­part­ment’s bud­get comes from do­na­tions. Large pur­chases like firetrucks usu­ally come from mu­nic­i­pal money, but smaller equip­ment is of­ten pur­chased with do­na­tions, he said.

A crew of seven Up­per Nazareth vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers hap­pened to be at the fire­house when the call came in at 6:26 p.m. that day, Fassl said.

Pe­queno was at­tend­ing a busi­ness net­work­ing event at OAK Steak­house in Eas­ton when his cell­phone started to ring. At first he ig­nored it, but af­ter four calls in a row he picked up to his fran­tic neigh­bor shout­ing, “Your house is on fire! It’s gone!”

“I said, ‘What are you talk­ing about?’” Pe­queno said.

He man­aged to get home within 15 min­utes, but by that point flames were shoot­ing 20 feet into the air from the top of the roof.

“It was sur­real,” he said. Pe­queno used his phone to check the home’s se­cu­rity cam­eras that showed Mar­shall, a timid dog who would hide at the sound a siz­zling fry­ing pan, hid­ing un­der the couch. Fire­fight­ers tried to re­sus­ci­tate the dog for 10 min­utes, but he suc­cumbed to smoke in­hala­tion.

Pe­queno’s other York­shire ter­rier, Baz, sur­vived be­cause he was at the vet hav­ing den­tal work done that day.

Seiple said Tues­day that the cause of the fire is still un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Since the fire, Pe­queno and his part­ner, Alisha Leavelle, have been spend­ing all their free time cat­a­loging for in­surance pur­poses the be­long­ings they lost. With win­ter just a few months away, Pe­queno said he likely won’t be able to re­build un­til next spring.

In the mean­time, he plans to live in a rental prop­erty he owns in Al­len­town. Pe­queno said he lost all of his ma­te­rial pos­ses­sions in the fire, but he’s thank­ful no one was in­jured and he has a place to stay.

“This is bad, but some­one al­ways has it worse,” Pe­queno said.

APRIL GAMIZ/THE MORN­ING CALL

Up­per Nazareth res­i­dent John Pe­queno started an on­line fundraiser af­ter his house burned down on Sept. 10, but in­stead of rais­ing money for him­self, Pe­queno raised $15,000 for the nine fire de­part­ments that re­sponded to the blaze.

PHOTOS BY APRIL GAMIZ/THE MORN­ING CALL

Up­per Nazareth res­i­dent John Pe­queno started an on­line fundraiser af­ter his house burned down on Sept. 10, but in­stead of rais­ing money for him­self, Pe­queno wants to raise money for the nine fire de­part­ments that re­sponded to the blaze.

Pe­queno raised $15,000 through a GoFundMe page for the nine fire de­part­ments that re­sponded to the blaze at his home. Pe­queno lost his dog and most of his pos­ses­sion in the Sept. 10 fire.

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