We don't usually spotlight our own employees in our Community Features series, but we are simply too proud of Meredith to let her go uncelebrated.
Meredith is a graphic designer here at bloom, and she has been with the team for nearly 2 years. In March 2022, Meredith was the victim of a two-alarm fire that destroyed 18 condo units and displaced roughly 30 people. Meredith was the first person in the unit to react that night, call 911, and guide firefighters to which tenants may need the most help evacuating. Her swift action and calmness under pressure working with the firefighters saved the lives of many people that night. She was awarded a Delaware Senate Tribute by Senators Laura Sturgeon and John Walsh for her heroism. We couldn't be prouder of our shero!
Can you recap the night of the fire?
I was up late playing a video game on my computer in my office when I began to smell something like incense burning. I got up and looked out the window to see if my neighbors were outside on their balcony smoking but didn't see anyone. Thinking it was unusual to smell that scent at that hour of the night, I went downstairs to look out my sliding glass door to see if I could track down where the smell was coming from. When I did, I saw smoke coming from the overhang over my neighbor's balcony. At first, I thought it was condensation from their dryer vent, but I decided to go out my front door to get a better look, and when I did, I saw massive flames coming from the unit on the end of my row. I immediately got on the phone with 911 and started answering their questions as I knocked on my direct neighbor's door to alert her. I then ran back into my unit, grabbed just a couple of things and my dog and got them out to the car. Once my dog was safe, I ran back to my building and knocked on my other two neighbors' doors trying to alert them as well. They, unfortunately did not answer and I wasn't sure how much time I had to remain in the building, so I returned outside and assisted my one neighbor away from the building. Once emergency crews arrived, I ran up to them and began telling them who was still left in the building and in what units. Thankfully my other neighbors made it out safely as well as majority of the other tenants in the building. Unfortunately, the fire did claim one life, the gentleman in the unit where the fire started, but had I not acted as quickly as I did, the casualties could have been much worse.
Are there any silver linings that have come from this experience that might benefit the community or someone going through something similar?
Sometimes it's really hard to find the silver lining in tragedies like this, but if anything came out of this that is positive, it's that it's made me realize how lucky I am to have so many people who care about me and reached out asking to help in any way they could. The outpouring of love and support from my bloom fam, family and friends, and even past coworkers was immeasurable and their generosity helped me get back on my feet right away. Some of them even sent new dog toys and treats for my dog and he is my world, so that really meant so much to me ❤️.
There's been a lot of small victories too that I'm finding gratitude for. I've gone back three times now and each time I've managed to save a couple of things. The first time back we got a couple of drawers of my clothes out (only exercise and pajamas but still something!), the second time I got some of my jewelry out, and the third time I managed to get a box of old family photos and some other memorabilia I'd collected over the years. It was pretty anxiety-inducing to return there so I kept forgetting important things that were stored in closets and such which is why it took me so long to get some things.
How did you maintain your sense of calm in that chaotic situation?
Living in a unit that is attached to others, I knew that if there ever was a fire, I could potentially be affected, so I always had a plan in mind of what I would grab and my evacuation route in the event of something like that ever happened. I think having a plan ahead of time really helped me remain calm during the situation. Also, just knowing that people's lives were in danger and if I didn't remain calm and act quickly they could be harmed, helped me keep myself going.
Someone needed to spring into action in such a dire situation like this and I knew if I didn't, people's lives could potentially be lost.
What obstacles have you faced in the aftermath of the fire?
It was also very overwhelming at first - I had calls, texts and emails almost constantly for the first week after the fire from all different people - insurance, fire investigators, the management company for my HOA, neighbors, friends, and family.
The day after was really difficult too - I didn't have any clothes besides the ones I ran out of the building in and I went to Target the next day to buy essentials and it was just completely overwhelming to think about all the things I needed to replace, down to the tiniest things...a hairbrush, a toothbrush, socks, etc. Walking through aisles was upsetting because I kept seeing things in aisles and thinking, "that's another thing I lost and will need to replace". I'd also gone back the day after because I needed to see the extent of the damage with my own eyes and it was just surreal and unbelievable. To know what my condo looked like before and then to see the devastation the fire caused was just unfathomable.
Due to living in a condo, I have an HOA which is in charge of insuring the structure of the building, and then I have my own personal insurance which covers the inside of my unit and my belongings - having two policies that are responsible for dealing with all of this has been very challenging. There was a lot of questioning at first about where the HOA's insurance ends and where the homeowner's insurance begins. We weren't really sure right away if the HOA's policy would cover the rebuilding of the entire structure of the building. Additionally, there had been a lot of communication issues between our HOA, the HOA management company, and unit owners where some people weren't receiving any emails/calls from them at all, and others were getting all different information. So on top of the turmoil, I was feeling of losing my entire home, I had added stress and worry about if my home would even be rebuilt, by who, and if I would have to pay money out of my own pocket for something that was entirely out of my control.
The emotions of having such a loss have been an obstacle too. In a way, it's very much like losing someone you care about - you kind of go through these various stages of grief.
Denial that this is your new reality, that your home is now gone and you're essentially homeless.
Anger that the fire happened and that it couldn't have been stopped before it spread as much as it did.
Bargaining - Wanting to save things even if they're not worth saving because they're damaged because you just want some of your belongings back and also thinking of how you could have reacted. differently/better/faster in the scenario and questioning if you could have done more.
Sadness over the fact you've lost things, some of which are irreplaceable and you'll never get back.
Acceptance - accepting that the fire happened, that you may never know the cause, that most of your things will not be salvageable, and accepting that a lot of things will be out of your hands.
Along with the grief, I've also experienced some post-traumatic stress and anxiety from the event. It's gotten better now, but for the first few months afterward, I had a lot of trouble falling asleep because I feared there would be a fire while I was sleeping. I was also hyper-aware of things that would potentially cause fires and tried to negate them - unplugging chargers if they weren't in use, turning off light switches and power strips, etc. which sounds super ridiculous, but it made me feel better at the time.
You always seem to approach this situation with a positive attitude. How have you maintained your sense of optimism when dealing with all of these things?
I've kind of always had this mindset of "why waste my energy on feeling sorry or dwelling on the negatives / potential outcomes VS trying to just live in the moment and take things as they come" and so not focusing on all the "what if's" has helped me avoid falling into negative thought patterns and emotions.
Also just reminding myself that the two most irreplaceable things in this situation, me and my dog Nash, made it out unharmed has helped me stay optimistic about it. Everything else are just "things" that can eventually be replaced.
That's not to say that I feel optimistic about it every day though, there are definitely days where it just feels like things will never get better and it's really, REALLY hard to find the positives and not dwell on the negatives, but I just have to keep giving myself mental pep talks to keep going, keep moving forward and do things that are within my control, and also take time to do things that make me happy even if they are minuscule.
People place a lot of importance on physical objects. How have you coped with the loss of so many of your things and your home itself? Did the loss of any certain items hit you particularly hard?
It's still something I'm coping with currently. It's kind of settling in as time passes and things come up in various situations - for example, the other day we were talking about our photography studio and I had several studio lights at home that would have been helpful to us at work but I had to remind myself they're gone now.
Finding gratitude for the few things I did manage to save. The night of the fire, one of the things I grabbed was my laptop that has literally decades of old photos and documents saved on it and I'm just really thankful I was able to save that and now I still have all those photos and memories.
Losing all my art supplies and old sketchbooks was pretty devastating. I had a lot of favorite supplies, some of which may not be able to be replaced because they were purchased in other countries, gifted to me from family's travels, or handmade/one-of-a-kind items. And of course, losing a lot of my sketchbooks that had decades of my old art in them was pretty upsetting. But I am grateful that I managed to save some of my old artwork - the night the fire happened, one of the few things I grabbed was a folder and I didn't realize until a few weeks later it had a lot of my watercolor paintings in it. It was a much-needed little victory when I discovered them inside it.
Are there any resources you wish you had ahead of time that would have helped you navigate this event?
There are really no instructions on all the things you need to do after an event like this and it's been a learning experience for me and I find myself wishing some sort of cohesive resource existed. Since I have the capability to design such a thing, and now have first-hand experience, I plan to compile a printable for other survivors of tragedies such as this.
Additionally, having a plan of action or an emergency preparedness kit/plan ahead of time is crucial.
Do you feel like you learned anything about yourself from this tragedy?
I've learned that I was wrong about myself - I always used to think/say that I don't react well in stressful situations, that I usually freeze up, but with this situation I sprung right into action and my natural instinct was not flight, it was fight, and thanks to that I likely saved a lot of people's lives.
Please set aside time to fill out this Disaster Preparedness Checklist, designed by Meredith. We hope no one has to be in this situation, but it is good to be prepared and have a plan in place in times of emergencies. If you were moved by Meredith's story, please feel free to share kind words with her below.