To the editor:
This past weekend, a fire destroyed an apartment complex in Urbandale, leaving dozens of families without a home and endangering the lives of the firefighters who responded to the call. Fortunately, there were no lives lost, and the material loss will eventually be forgotten.
We are not always so lucky.
Sixteen years ago this week, I lost one of my best friends to a house fire in Ames. A house that had been home to many good times was engulfed in flames in a matter of minutes, and in an instant a man’s life was taken, a brotherhood was shaken, and a family was devastated.
Edgar’s big smile, kind heart and joy for life was accentuated by a 6’2” 250-pound frame. This bear of a man was a teddy bear of a soul. Edgar Del Pilar came to Iowa from the beautiful island of Puerto Rico.
He was an only child thousands of miles away from home and quickly became close to the men of Sigma Lambda Beta, a fraternity who soon became his older brothers. He eventually became a roommate with several of us, and we shared leftover pizzas, some intense sessions of computer gaming and late night shenanigans.
At 3:16 a.m. on March 8, 2004, firefighters were called to 1020 Garfield Ave. Edgar was woken by the fire alarm and started knocking on the doors of the roommates. Jason, Roy and his girlfriend made it outside only to discover that Edgar was nowhere to be found.
Panic set in, and their fear eventually became a reality when firefighters discovered Edgar in his bedroom. He died of smoke inhalation.
He died a hero.
It’s hard to think of all that we have missed since Edgar passed. My kids missed out on an uncle who would have made them laugh their heads off. I missed out on a friend that I could call when things are not going well. The world missed out on a man who could bring joy to all who knew him.
When I find it hard to think about all that we have missed, I remind myself that things could be worse. Edgar’s quick thinking saved the lives of some great friends. The brotherhood still gets together every year, whether an alumni trip to the mountains, a crawfish boil in Chicago or family vacations to the beach.
Roy was my best man in my wedding and has been one of the strongest influences in my adult life. Jason is my go-to call when I need advice in my professional life. Between us three, we have eight children. Our wives get along great, and we relive some of our college shenanigans every time we get together.
Every March 8, Roy posts the following reminder on his social media:
- Check and test your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors every month to make sure they are functioning properly. Replace batteries on a regular basis. Do it now, as you are reading this, before you forget!
- Know where your fire extinguishers are located, and check that your fire extinguishers are properly charged.
- Talk with your family and/or roommates about emergency situations, and make an evacuation plan.
- In case of a fire, stay calm, cover your nose and mouth with a cloth and stay low because smoke inhalation is what kills the majority of the time. Get out of the building ASAP and then call 911. You may only have less than two minutes to get out.
- Tell your loved one how much you love them and appreciate them because we never know when we will have another opportunity to do so.
This spring I am proud to be working with the Perry Fire Department and the American Red Cross on a project to install hundreds of fire alarms in the area. The American Red Cross Home Fire campaign helps save lives by installing free smoke alarms in homes that don’t have them and by educating people about home and fire safety.
A fire alarm saved the lives of two of my best friends, and I hope that the fire alarms we install will do the same for someone reading this. If you are interested in helping plan for this day of action, please join us Monday, March 23 at 5 p.m. at the Perry fire station. For more information reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the American Red Cross website.