Holy Smokes! What I Learned When I Became a Customer

By Derek Preece

After nearly 20 years of service to my community in the area of “disaster relief specialist”, and after assisting literally thousands of unsuspecting victims through the rebuilding and restoring of their lives, one fall afternoon my perspective of dealing with people through their losses changed forever.

It was a normal fall day in September 2015 and the uncomfortable pains of hunger were starting to bother me enough that it was becoming difficult to ignore them. It was noon and time for lunch. After 4 months of a full body and lifestyle transformation brought on by an insane weight-loss challenge with my brother (that’s a story for another time), I’d become accustomed to going home for lunch where I had more control over my caloric intake. And thankfully, today was no different.

As my Ford F-150 rounded the corner on which my wife’s beautiful home sits, I instinctively mashed the button on the visor that would signal the garage door to open. And pulling in the driveway to a rising door I noticed that my wife’s car was once again missing. I’d be eating lunch alone again today.

Now don’t read the wrong thing into this. My wife and I are very happily married and have been for 22 ½ blissful years. And we’ve been very fortunate in our lives and business situations to allow for her to not have to work outside the home. She’s a wonderful mother to our 5 amazing children and so when I say that her car was missing again, I simply mean that I assumed that she was out volunteering in one of the children’s classrooms at school or something. And eating alone is completely fine with me. I’m a big boy. With that said… here’s the story.

Little did I know that this lunch was going to be very different from the many, many lunches I eaten before. Turning the key to off and exiting my pickup I strolled across the garage floor to the door where I most often enter my home. And just like I’d done thousands of times before over the past 8 years, I turned the knob and pushed open the door into our laundry room. And instantly it happened…FEAR!

Boom! It hit me. Like a ……. my nostrils met the intrusion of putrid smoke and my eyes instantly felt the sting of millions of microscopic floating particles penetrating the air. Something was burning! As I rushed into our home (this is not a discussion on why I disregarded all the rules of safety) I found unbelievably massive clouds of billowing smoke AND a smoldering pot of what was once “hard boiled eggs” smoking like a chimney on our gas fired stove.

I was about to enter “Stage 2” of an emotional roller coaster that had just become “my smoke-damaged home”. Once the initial stage of fear had permeated my being the instant I opened the door (you know the type of fear motivated by adrenaline that kicks you into action). Once I found out that nothing was actually in flames and that it was “only eggs”, my fear turned to ANGER (this is stage 2).

For a few minutes – maybe 3.5 – I was TICKED OFF (at my wife, but don’t tell her that because I do actually enjoy sleeping in our bed vs.- the couch). How could she be so freakin’ absent-minded as to forget that she was boiling eggs? Now look at the mess she made.

But, my better and smarter senses soon gained control and stage 2 made the turn to the next stage.

Stage 3. CONCERN & Inquiry. I had to find out the what and the why and the how (and maybe, just maybe I was looking for a little bit of “placing blame” on my wife) this all happened quickly. And so, I dialed my wife.

“Hello?” she answered.

“Hi, babe. Where are you?” I mused.

“Oh, I’m in Idaho Falls with my friends.” Came her happy reply.

“Whatcha doin with your friends?” I amusingly asked.

“We’re at the home-show.” She answered and I could feel the happy smile in her voice.

And here was my chance. A little chance to chide and dig in a little of the “blame game”. (This is really stupid, by the way.)

“Oh, well why don’t you come home, cuz there’s a show waiting for you here.” I sarcastically retorted.

And innocently she inquired, “Why? What’s up?”

“Well, we’ve had a simple issue involving some EGGS.” And then, a gasp.

“Oh my gosh! The EGGS!” she said in horror.

Enter Stage 5: Uncertainty and Questions. Who’s going to clean this all up? How long is it going to take? Are we calling our insurance company? Uncertainty SUCKS because not having the answers to all of the questions is extremely disheartening and very stressful.

Stage 6: Dread.  All the work that has to be done, unexpectantly – work that will cost time and money.

Stage 7: More questions. Are my belongings safe? Will they treat all my stuff with care?

Stage 8: Decisions bring RELIEF (at least momentarily). This stage is finally a great place to be but it is extremely short lived. We knew which direction we were going and what needed to be done and finally we had some immediate answers. But we knew there was yet to be a lot of work to be done. But, we were starting to feel hopeful.

Stage 9: Excitement and Expectations. We’re going to have a sparkling clean house, AND we’re not going to have to do ALL the work by ourselves. Oh… I thought of cleaning the chandeliers. Every Christmas, my wife makes me assemble her 12’ Christmas tree AND, “since you’ve brought the great big ladder home, it’s time to dust the chandeliers”. I HATE doing that. And this year – I WON’T HAVE TO. I was freaking excited.

Stage 10: More FEAR & apprehension – at least for my wife. This was the BIGGIE! After 22 years of marriage, and 5 children we have accumulated a lot of memories (stuff) that all has it’s place in our home. Everything holds a place in my lovely wife’s heart. And now, she’ll be forced to trust it’s care to total strangers. It’s nearly impossible to put words to the incredible emotions coursing through my dear wife’s 5’2” frame. But suffice it to say, this stage is the true “make it or break it” phase for a service contractor. Screw this up, and you’re sunk.

Stage 11: Peace of Mind Restored. Luckily, at some point (and this can come sooner or later) during the project total reassurance that all is well finally settles in. Confidence is built in the professionals that perform the work and a light appears at the end of the tunnel. And this is the phase of the project that all service companies long to reach and ultimately stay in…

While I don’t wish this experience on anyone, I am grateful for it. It has served as a great reminder of what it is we really get to do in our industry. People literally trust US to step into their lives and homes amidst confusion and fear and help make things better. That is a responsibility that I have always taken seriously, but forever more whenever I see eggs boiling I will be reminded. We get to be the heroes of people’s story everyday.

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