My name is Penny Echard. I am the mother of five beautiful children, three of whom I was blessed to have only for a short time. Although it is hard for me to relive this story, I feel it is important for me to tell it. On April 1, 2002, I was scheduled to work at Cummins Engine and had to be there at 4:30am. Their grandparents offered to keep them overnight and get them to school the next morning. Unfortunately, morning never came for them. During the night the wood stove caused a fire that claimed the lives of three of my children.
My oldest son, Billy, age 11, could have escaped from downstairs with his brother and cousin, but instead attempted to rescue his two little sisters Danielle, age 6, and Janel, age 4, who had been sleeping upstairs. The stairway became engulfed with smoke and flames. There was no escape ladder for them to use. Firefighters came from several different fire departments and tried to reach them but were unable.
Although I miss them every day, I believe their lives were not lost in vain. Their pictures sit on a shelf at the Chautauqua Safety Village, in a bedroom dedicated to Billy for his heroic actions. Their story is told on a weekly basis to children, teachers, and parents, as part of the hands-on training classes they provide. Every child who attends the classes participates in an actual escape plan in the mock home. It is equipped with simulated smoke, a custom-made door that heats up to 104 degrees, and an escape ladder that allows children to climb out the bedroom window down a half a story to the outside of the home. Instructors emphatically stress the importance of choosing a meeting place with your family and practicing an escape plan.
In fact, in 2012, the Chautauqua Safety Village had their first success story when a little girl, only four years old, who had been to the Chautauqua Safety Village training, went home and relentlessly insisted that her family practice an escape plan. After much resistance, her father finally gave in to his daughter’s insistence and created an escape plan with his family, taking the plastic off the escape ladder that was still in its original packaging under the girl’s bed. Little did he know that just a few months later, they would have to implement the plan they practiced. Today, this family is alive and well because they were prepared.
Although, nothing is for certain, I believe that their lives were spared due to the training they received and the determination of the little girl. This is why it is so important for me to support the Chautauqua Safety Village. If even one life can be saved through the classes taught, it is worth it all. I firmly believe that if my children had had the opportunity to attend the Chautauqua Safety Village training classes, they would still be here today.
My plea is that you too, will see the importance of the training offered by the Chautauqua Safety Village, which is a not-for-profit organization that is sustained through the fundraising efforts and donations. There are only a handful of these unique villages throughout the United States and the fact that we have one in our community is a privilege that is often overlooked. Please consider supporting the Chautauqua Safety Village and what they offer to our community. You are helping make a difference in the lives of children in our community every day.