BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Kami Deppen isn’t sure why she and her husband, Brian, both suddenly bolted upright in bed just before 2:00 a.m. on August 30.
“We shouldn’t have woken up,” said Kami, explaining that she is a heavy sleeper.
The dogs were asleep and the house was quiet. Yet a fire in their home, at 305 Ridgepoint Circle West in Waterville’s Mill Creek neighborhood, was spreading from the garage through the attic – above the smoke detectors in the house.
“No smoke detectors were going off because it was in the garage and roof,” Kami said. “I don’t know what woke us up. There was no sound, but we could smell smoke.”
While Brian ran through the house looking for their 22-year-old son Cole, Kami threw on clothes while dialing 911, grabbing one of the cats on her way out. Another cat is still missing.
As they passed the fireproof door to the garage – just feet from the steps leading to the basement where Brian found Cole – they noticed that it was glowing orange.
“The door was doing its job,” Kami said.
Within two minutes, Kami, Brian, Cole, their two dogs and one cat were outside. Pulling up the only picture she took of the fire, just before the first emergency vehicle arrived, Kami noted that the flames are already well above the roofline.
“I showed up to one of the worst fires I’ve seen in many years,” said Waterville Fire Chief Doug Meyer.
Pagers alerted Waterville Fire at 1:57 a.m. Life Squad 9 from Whitehouse was first on the scene, followed by Meyer and at 2:06 a.m. the first Waterville fire crew.
“They got up, got on their turnout gear, got into the truck, pulled out and shut the door and were there in nine minutes. We were spraying water on the house two minutes later,” Meyer said, explaining that the structure was so bad, it was determined to be a defensive fire – hosing it down to contain the flames and prevent it from spreading to adjacent homes.
Fire crews from Monclova and Whitehouse also arrived on scene, and Meyer called for Providence Township to send a rehabilitation unit with medics to check the firefighters who might be impacted by stress and heat. In total, 26 people worked the scene.
A Red Cross representative was in contact by 4:00 a.m. about emergency shelter. By 5:15 a.m., the fire was out, and by 7:00 a.m., the firefighters had returned to the station.
Recalling that night, Kami fights back tears. The neighbors immediately brought out clothes and blankets for the Deppens, then rallied around them to help. Jen Burnell opened her basement for Brian and Kami to live in until they find a home to rent. Roger and Heather Burke welcomed the sooty dogs into their home. Katie and Rob Leitner have provided support. Deb and Tim Guzman opened a Deppen Family Benefit account at First Federal of Delta for those who want to make a donation. Many have given gift cards through several donation opportunities. The couple has also received an outpouring of support from their church family at Redemption Church.
“This community has all come around us. We feel comforted and loved,” Kami said. “It’s a true community. We have such amazing neighbors.”
Both are also proud of how their adult children and spouses, their parents and siblings on both the Carmody and Deppen sides have stepped up to support them.
While both have participated in disaster relief for others, neither one was used to accepting help from others.
“My neighbor Roger said to us, ‘A lot of people will want to help you. You need to let them.’ That was one of the most humbling things,” Kami said. “It shakes a community when something happens. People care, and they are trying to process it, too.”
Talking about it and providing assistance is a way for the community to heal as well, they realize.
Brian, a 1991 Anthony Wayne graduate, recalls growing up in Waterville, which was a tight-knit village. As Waterville expanded into a city, Brian admits it sometimes felt as if that small-town feel of his childhood was disappearing. As Waterville residents have stepped up to help, however, it’s felt like the town he grew to love while growing up, he said.
Kami, a 1993 Anthony Wayne graduate, grew up in Neapolis. When the two got married, they lived in Genoa for a while, but wanted to move back.
Kami remembers the first time she drove through Mill Creek with the kids 15 years ago.
“We did it just for giggles,” she said. “Everyone waved at us. That hasn’t changed. People all still wave. It really is a warm and caring community.”
The house that’s been home since 2009 is now a pile of rubble, and Kami said she becomes too emotional to go to the scene.
“I think about the what-ifs,” she admitted. “But we are safe. Stuff is just stuff.”
As Brian sorted through the remains, he found sentimental items, including his grandfather’s wedding ring and Kami’s engagement rings. On the living room wall, which still stands, were four things: the word “adventure,” a photo of the family, a picture their daughter painted and a framed quote from 2 Corinthians 5:7: “I will walk by faith even when I cannot see.”
“I feel like God has been with us the whole time,” Kami said. “There’s been all kinds of little miracles.”
“It’s a beautiful story out of the ashes,” Brian added.
The most miraculous find in the house was Spike, their yellow-eared slider turtle.
The size of a quarter when the family adopted him 15 years ago, he’s been a fixture in the home, dubbed their “water feature” since he lives in an enclosure with water, plants and a fence.
When a representative from the Ohio Fire Marshal’s office exited with Meyer from a tour of the scene late that morning, they surprised Brian by holding Spike aloft.
“We found him inside the home underneath the rubble. He put himself in his shell and sunk down in the water,” Meyer said. “I’ve never had to rescue a turtle. Spike survived.”
One of the Deppens’ friends, a volunteer with Nature’s Nursery, is fostering Spike and one of their dogs for the next year as they await the rebuilding of their home.
“We have no interest in moving out of the area,” Brian said. “After going through this, I can’t even fathom living somewhere else. The support has been beyond humbling.”
“‘Thank you’ doesn’t scratch the surface,” Kami added.