MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A Memphis couple were set to start a new chapter in their life away from Memphis until tragedy struck, losing their house to a fire. From the fire, the couple ended up finding their true home.
The sun had yet to rise on the cold December morning in 2016, but Steven Pecaitis was already up and preparing for his 24 hour shift at Station 36 with a cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin. Still groggy in that early morning hour, his senses became alert as the smell of smoke began to seep into his Humes Heights home.
"Came back into the kitchen and opened the door to the garage and the smoke was all the way to the floor; I couldn't see anything,"
said Memphis firefighter Steven Pecaitis.
The couple's surveillance camera captured smoke so thick Steven couldn't see his wife's car three feet away.
His firefighter instincts kicked in immediately, as he called 911 then ran to wake up Emily, a flight nurse, asleep in the back bedroom. The two watched from their driveway as Steven's coworkers--their friends--worked to save their home.
Now, a month later, not much appears to have changed from the outside of their home. A Christmas wreath still hangs on their front door and the trim singed. The door gave the Pecaitis the few minutes needed to escape.
"You can see that this side, you know, almost looks unburned except for a little bit of charring right here. And you open it up and that's what held the fire back from coming into the house," he said.
What wasn't destroyed in the fire was covered in soot.
But from this fire rose the Pecaitis' phoenix, a new view of the city they once thought they would leave behind.
"The only word that I could describe the experience we've had after this is beautiful, because the way our community has shown love and support, even people we don't even know," said Emily Pecaitis.
Neighbors offered clothes, shelter, and even a car. Strangers who heard their story offered to help them replace items lost in the fire.
"The homicides and, you know, any violent crime that you see it really is the tip of the iceberg and it's a very small percentage of the people that make up the community," said Steven Pecaitis.
The couple once thought they would be closing the door on their Memphis chapter, but now can't imagine starting over in any other city but Memphis.
"It's just amazing how it took an adverse event like this to really open our eyes to all the love that this city and community has to offer," said Steven.
It will be at least eight more months before the couple is able to move back in to their home. But, through the support of this community and people they now consider family, they've found the strength to rebuild.