Above & Beyond: Richmond firefighter helping families rebuild after tragedy

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — All this week, 8News has been introducing you to people making a difference where you live.

Firefighters go above and beyond each day by risking their lives for the community. But one Richmond firefighter is on a mission to help, even after the smoke has cleared.

Jesse Baust is the founder of Fighting More Than Fire
Jesse Baust is the founder of Fighting More Than Fire

Jesse Baust, who is a third-generation firefighter, founded Fighting More Than Fire. It aims to help uninsured people rebuild their homes and lives after accidental fires.

Baust inspects a home after it was scorched by fire
Baust inspects a home after it was scorched by fire

“After we put out the fire, we get to spend some time with the families and we see how much hurt it brings them,” said Baust. “We’re in this job to help people, so I saw a way to go just a little bit further. That’s where the whole name comes from — Fighting More Than Fire. We’re doing more than just putting the house out.”

The organization recently reconstructed and renovated a home in Hopewell that caught fire in December 2014. After a year of hard work and fundraising, they moved the family in just in time for Christmas 2015.

It took about a year to transform this home in Hopewell
It took about a year to transform this home in Hopewell

“Walking the family through their new home — no words can express how great that feels,” said Baust.

The transformation was made possible by tens of thousands of donated dollars, partnerships and the organization’s team.

The home was completely renovated and reconstructed
The home was completely renovated and reconstructed

Now, Baust is already working on Fighting More Than Fire’s next project.

On Tuesday, he met with Julie Johnson and Herbie Dunavant at their Henrico home. The house on Durango Road burned up a few weeks ago. The couple’s dog, Sofie, did not survive.

Sofie did not survive the fire on Durango Road
Sofie did not survive the fire on Durango Road

“Watching your home burn with basically one of your children inside, it’s just horrific,” said Johnson.

Johnson and Dunavant have been living in a camper in the backyard while they continue to sift through the damage and work on the home each day.

It’s been a struggle. The couple says when Dunavant was diagnosed with leukemia, they refinanced their home to pay for medical bills. There wasn’t enough left to pay for homeowners insurance. They never imagined they’d lose everything in a fire.

The couple says Herbie's medical bills for leukemia prevented them from purchasing homeowners insurance
The couple says Dunavant’s medical bills for leukemia prevented them from purchasing homeowners insurance

That’s when a neighbor told them about Baust and Fighting More Than Fire.

“I started crying,” said Johnson. “I just couldn’t believe that there might possibly be some help.”

The fire at their home started because of faulty baseboard heating. It spread to the living room curtains and made its way through the home.

“It’s an accident. Their outlet messed up,” said Baust. “It could happen to anybody.”

Johnson called the fire that destroyed her home "horrific"
Johnson called the fire that destroyed her home “horrific”

There will be a lot of clean up and fundraising before the couple can move back into their home, but the homeowners say they’re just touched knowing there’s someone who wants to help.

“I totally believe everything happens for a reason,” said Johnson.

To learn more about Fighting More Than Fire and its team and parters, click HERE.

If you’d like to donate, Baust has created a GoFundMe page for the family. To see that, click HERE.

All this week, 8News reporters Evanne Armour and Roxie Bustamante are introducing viewers to people like Jesse Baust who are going “Above & Beyond” in their communities. That segment airs every day this week at 5 a.m. on Good Morning Richmond. If you know someone doing something special in the community, tell us about it by emailing iReport8@wric.com. 

 

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