There's no place like home for the holidays

Gwen Chamberlain
The Pollacks in their brand new kitchen. From left Alice, Allison, Corinna, Amber, Kayla, Susan, Paul, Edward and Paul.

There’s no place like home for the holidays. A Dundee family of nine — Paul and Alice Pollack and their seven children — are planning their first Christmas in their Union Street home that has been completely rebuilt following a February fire.

After moving back in their home on Nov. 23, the family had plenty to be grateful for duringThanksgiving, and now they want the community to hear their heartwarming story.

Within hours of the Feb. 6 fire that destroyed their home, took the lives of two pet cats and sent some of their children to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation, the Pollacks were receiving donations of clothing, money, furnishings and even a village home that could accommodate the entire crew, including three dogs and another cat.

Then, just when they thought they’d never be able to return to the home they bought in 2004 and worked hard to remodel, the man they now call their “hero” stepped into their lives and offered his help.

Paul and Alice say they didn’t really know Steve Brace before the day he walked into their lives, but they quickly credit him with the fact that they endured the struggle to rebuild the home.

“He just showed up and said, ‘I want to donate my time to help you,’” says Alice, as she scrolls through files of photo images of the project that she’s posted on her Facebook page.

She says Brace donated his time from Monday through Friday from last spring to November, when they moved in. Others who worked side by side with Brace and the family were Terry (Cobb) Cornish, who did all the electrical wiring, Sean Rosemier and Greg Meyers, who worked at his own job until 7 a.m., then showed up to work at the house all day before going to his own home to catch some sleep before returning to work.

Jeff Herrick donated labor to install the drywall and Sean Brewer also helped, says Alice.

The Pollacks say they could never have rebuilt their home and moved back in without the help of the crew that donated so much time to help them, but they also say there were many others who pitched in with ways to help out.

Dick and Helen Axtell provided them with a house on Hollister Street so they could all be together right after the fire.

Faulkner Truss Company of Dresden provided trusses so they could expand the house to make more room to accommodate the couple and their seven teenagers, Susan, 19, Corinna, 17, Allison and Edward, both 16, Paul, 15, Amber 14 and Kayla, 13.

The original home, like many in Dundee, was built in the early 1900s, and as is typical of houses from that era, was comprised of a series of smaller rooms. The new, larger house has an open floor plan downstairs with one bedroom on the first floor and three bedrooms upstairs.

The fire started on the stove in the kitchen when some of the children were at home on a Saturday. Paul and Alice received the horrifying phone call that their house was ablaze while they were out of town at a wrestling tournament, watching the younger Paul compete.

Before they were even back in Dundee, the community was reaching out to the family, says Alice. And it didn’t take long for them to see Dundee in a new light.

She describes the fast response by the Dundee Fire Department, headquartered just steps away from the house, and marvels at how diligent the fire fighters were in working to revive one of their dogs, Jacoby. Going through the smoky house fighting the blaze, a firefighter’s boot nudged the dog’s body, which he scooped up and brought outside. Jacoby’s dry tongue hung out, his eyes were dry and he wasn’t breathing, but rescuers worked for nearly a half hour to revive him. He’s now an energetic, engaging animal, but he and their Great Dane, Scarlet, both required extensive care at Millstone Veterinary Clinic, and they have lingering coughs.

“A lot of people complain about this little town, but we love it,” says Alice, adding, “We have total respect for this community.”

When asked how this experience changed them Paul adds, “It did teach us how much people cared. This fire knocked us down and the community put us back on our feet.”

The Pollack’s fire was the second house fire in Dundee within a week and the fourth in the area within a period of a few months. Community members banded together to hold fundraising events for the Pollacks and the Jason Williams family, whose Main Street home was seriously damaged on Jan. 31.

A spaghetti dinner augmented by raffles and more raised enough money to buy the new windows installed in the Pollack’s home. Paul points out all the new windows are big enough to escape the house, and every upstairs room has access to a porch roof.

Like other victims of house fires and tragedies, the Pollacks say the events since Feb. 6 have forever changed them. And now, as they start the next chapter of their lives, they have time to put what they’ve been through into perspective.

Seeing the house they were working hard to remodel and make their own destroyed was the first phase of their transformation.

Then came the hard work of tearing apart the remains of that house — coming to terms with how close some of their children came to perishing in the upstairs as flames shot up the stairway, and knowing that you’d have to find the body of one of the cats that was lost in the fire.

Then came the labor of rebuilding — sometimes daunting and backbreaking, sometimes confusing and complicated, but always making progress, and building new friendships along the way.

Now, Alice and Paul say they miss seeing their new friends, Steve, Sean, Cobb, Jeff and Sean everyday.

“There would be days when I would come here and I would say, ‘I’m done,’ and Steve would say, ‘No, you’re not,’” says Alice, describing how the crew kept each other going.

The community support didn’t stop there. When the family got word that they could move into the home last month, Dundee wrestling coach Sheldon Gibson turned one of the team’s practice sessions into a moving bee. The wrestling team jogged to Hollister Street and helped the Pollacks load furniture to go to the new house.

Alice says the Dundee Central School staff were all supportive and helpful, too.

Now, the Pollacks are preparing their new home for the holidays, planning where to put their Christmas tree and find anything that might compete with the gifts they’ve already been given.

“Here we are, back home,” says Paul.

Maybe that’s enough.

The Feb. 6 fire started in the kitchen, and quickly spread to interior walls and up the nearby stairway, which some of the children had to come down to escape.