Virginia Nonprofit Group Aids Fire Victims

By RANDY HALLMAN, Richmond Times-Dispatch | January 6, 2015

Inspired by what he saw on the job as a Richmond firefighter, Jesse Baust started an organization to help fire victims. Recently the organization – Fighting More Than Fire Inc. – had its first mission.

The group has come to the aid of Alisha Bennett and her family, Hopewell residents who were displaced by an accidental fire at their house Dec. 11.

With the help of the nonprofit Baust founded two years ago, Bennett, her parents and her three children have had a place to stay since the fire, and will be able to get back into their house in about two months, Baust said.

Baust has always known about the life of firefighters. His grandfather and father were both fire department officers in New York.

Baust, a James Madison University graduate, started with the Richmond Department of Fire and Emergency Services in 2010. He began to understand an extra burden his father and grandfather carried – empathy with families whose homes were ruined by fire.

“We come, we fight fires, we put them out,” Baust said, “but that’s not the end of the story. People have to deal with the aftermath, sometimes with children to look after. That can be very tough.

“After I went to a few house fires,” he said, ‘I saw that we could do a little bit more.”

So he is founder and president of Fighting More Than Fire. Until now, the organization has been raising funds – about $20,000 so far – and raising awareness.

“We just needed enough money to pull the trigger,” he said. “We reached that point, and then this family turned up.”

The organization has helped Bennett and her family find shelter, staying at hotels for short stays. Baust reached an agreement Dec. 23 with Twin Rivers Apartments in Hopewell to house the family for up to three months.

To restore Bennett’s house to habitable status, Baust’s organization enlisted help from Eagle Construction of Virginia LLC, based in Henrico County, and Eagle Bay Hardscape Products, based in Chesterfield County.

Phillip Glaeser, Eagle Construction’s marketing manager, said his company will provide project management and help deal with vendors. “We told Fighting More Than Fire that we’ll do whatever they need,” Glaeser said.

He said Eagle Construction has been a supporter of Baust’s organization since its earliest days. “They approached us two years ago,” he said. “They came in and sat down, and what they said made a lot of sense.

“Central Virginia has been very good to Eagle Construction,” Glaeser said. “This is a way for us to help people in central Virginia.”

Bennett said her family’s gratitude runs deep. The fire department was on the scene about four minutes after the family called, she said, and kept the fire from burning beyond the bedroom.

“But we really lost just about everything,” she said. “The fire burned the bedroom, but the heat melted so much, and the soot and smoke destroyed things.”

She said her children, Vladimir, 8; Aleena, 6; and William, 5, “were very, very traumatized at first because they lost all their stuff. Now they understand that things are replaceable.”

Bennett, a cab driver, said the American Red Cross helped her family. A local church worked with Smart Home Builders Inc. of Hopewell to provide a storage shed for the family’s possessions that survived the blaze. And Baust’s organization got involved soon after the fire.

“I’m a huge fan of police and firefighters and the work they do,” Bennett said. “They don’t get enough credit. And this is another level of service. I hope they’ll get greater appreciation.”

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