By Kaylee Lindenmuth
It’s 2014, and I’m a 15-year-old high school freshman. Most of my fall and spring the following year is spent at my then-best friend’s house on the west end of Shenandoah, a former coal mining community about an hour north of Kutztown in Schuylkill County.
She lived about six blocks away from me, though we could see each other’s homes from our upper floors.
We often spent afternoons and weekends playing soccer in her backyard, which was rather spacious for a densely packed town of row homes. I can still vividly remember the fear when the soccer ball would soar straight towards the window (though it never struck).
I hadn’t been in that yard for about four-and-a-half years when I found myself back there earlier this year, with a fear incomparable to a soccer mishap.
When I’m not at KU, I own and operate a news website covering my hometown and the surrounding area, and almost 24/7, a fire scanner is running in my bedroom.
Just shy of 4:00 p.m. on Jan. 5, it went off.
“District 64, District 48, Station 5 for the rescue… West Penn Street, Shenandoah Borough, smoke in a structure,” the scanner blared. In layman’s terms, Schuylkill County 911 was sending the Shenandoah Fire Department (64) and a rescue from Mahanoy City (48) to her street.
I didn’t know her exact address, but I knew the block and knew the line of sight I had from my rooftop. Before racing to the scene, I ran to the attic to see if my suspicions were correct, and my heart dropped when I got to the window. I saw smoke escaping from a vent and eaves of her roof, and never have I flown back downstairs faster in my life. I arrived at the scene just as firefighters and most of the family did.
The family, other than the two who called it in, were at the store when the fire broke out. As I spoke to the family, I found myself in an odd position I hope will never be duplicated, but I hold it as a lesson for the future.
The place I spent my freshman year playing soccer became my workplace as I photographed our region’s bravest as they worked to save the home. As concerned as I was, I had a job to do as well.
“Remember… for every story, there is someone who cared for the victims as much as you did for this story,” is what a journalist on Reddit told me when I shared my story there.
It’s a lesson I’ll hold close as I continue to pursue a career in this field and cover stories both at KU and at home. It’s an easy thing to forget when your job is to cover such tragedies, and being brought back to a place of such joy from my childhood in that manner opened my eyes to that.
The damage to the home was contained to their attic, a Shenandoah fire marshal told me, citing the cause as electrical.