|Preschool hero saves family in fire
|Back row, from left, Debbie and Jeff Filmer, and Debra Brandt stand outside the charred remains of the trailer on Cedarville Road. Front, from left, Natalie, Alyssa and Zach Filmer were asleep with their mom, Debbie, when the fire broke out. Zach woke first and rescued the family, getting them safely out of the house before the firemen arrived. (Photo by Janine Giordano)
ILION – Being a hero seems almost matter of fact for 4-year-old Zach Filmer.
“I woke up and got out of the house,” he said, when asked about the recent fire that destroyed his family home on Cedarville Road in the town of Litchfield.
It seemed like an ordinary night for the pre-k student and his family. It was nearly 10:30 p.m. and his dad, Jeff, had just left for his night job at Grannies in Frankfort. He and his mom, Debbie, were snoozing in the living room, each of them claiming a couch. His baby sister, Alyssa, was fast asleep on the third couch and his youngest sister, Natalie, was in her playpen, in the middle of the living room, also fast asleep.
Then, in a few short moments, their lives changed forever. A fire broke out and by the time Zach heard the smoke alarm blaring, the living room where he and his mom and sisters lay sleeping was engulfed in flames.
According to Jeff Filmer, his wife woke up to find Zach standing by her telling her the house was on fire. “He said, ‘wake up mommy.’ She scooped up the girls. Zach jumped the porch and she hurdled the porch,” Jeff said. The end of the couch was on fire, Alyssa’s blanket was on fire and her pajamas had started to melt.
“Everything is gone,” Jeff said, listing all the documentation destroyed, including his and his wife’s marriage certificate that was framed on a wall.
“TV, stereo, computer,” he said, pointing through the charred doorway at the remains of the monitor laying on the floor.
Everything was destroyed, nothing salvageable, he added. There will be no recouping of losses as the family did not have insurance.
Their greatest loss was suffered with the death of their dog, a Rottweiler named Rocco, who did not survive. “They think he went back in to save the kids,” said Debbie Filmer’s mother, Debra Brandt.
Cedarville and West Winfield fire departments responded to the fire, which Brandt said was determined to be electrical, but were unable to save the trailer, where Debbie has lived for more than half her life. It was here she lived as a child and young woman prior to moving her family in five years ago.
The family is currently staying at Brandt’s house just down the road.
Two days after the fire destroyed everything but a photograph of the young couple on their first date, Brandt was at a laundromat in Herkimer washing clothing donations given to her daughter’s family. The American Red Cross, fire departments and the preschool her grandson attends all pitched in with donations of clothing and blankets.
As she folded a Barnie the Dinosaur comforter, she spoke about a surprise 22nd birthday party she was going to be giving her daughter that night and about how proud she is of her grandson.
“Zach is a very smart, very intelligent boy for his age,” Brandt said. “He learned about fire safety at his school (the Federated Church in West Winfield). They taught him how to act in case of a fire,” she added.
“I’m just glad they got out alive.”
Standing in front of the trailer, now posted with “no trespassing” signs to keep looters at bay, Zach shook his head, pointed and said, “my front door is gone. Both doors are gone. And my bathroom, too.”