LEHIGH VALLEY, Pa. - Sitting in his backyard, John Pequeno points out just how badly a recent fire damaged his Upper Nazareth Township home.
From the back of the house, all that’s left is a charred black shell, revealing how the upper floors collapsed into the basement. Pequeno lost his beloved Yorkshire terrier, Marshall, and most of his possessions to the blaze at Rising Sun Court.
Almost immediately, friends and family started asking how they could help, but Pequeno, a successful Allentown businessman, said he didn’t need the money.
Instead, he set up a GoFundMe page to raise $15,000 for the nine local fire departments that responded.
“My parents are from Portugal and they always taught me that you only take help when you need it,” said Pequeno, the founder and president of Ideal Concepts, an insurance technology company with headquarters in Allentown.
He started the company in 2005, not long after graduating with a master’s degree in computer engineering from Lehigh University. He’s lived at his home on Rising Sun Court for 10 years.
Pequeno recalled how firefighters put their lives on the line trying to save his home.
They ran into the house multiple times in an effort to save Marshall, eventually finding him hiding under a couch. Firefighters tried to resuscitate the dog for 10 minutes, but he succumbed to smoke inhalation.
When Pequeno remembered the 1,000-gallon propane tank in the backyard that heats the pool and gas fireplace, a firefighter didn’t hesitate to make sure the valve was off, despite nearby flames that stretched 20 feet into the air.
Several days later, when Pequeno wanted to search the rubble for anything that could be salvaged, seven Upper Nazareth Fire Department members showed up to offer help.
“I never realized most of these smaller- and medium-sized fire departments rely on volunteers,” Pequeno said.
Indeed, all nine departments that will benefit from the fundraiser are composed of volunteers.
Jeff Fassl, president and assistant chief of the Upper Nazareth Fire Department, said he’s never seen anything like this.
“It’s amazing. I’ve been a volunteer in the fire service for close to 30 years, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen someone after a tragedy stepping up and not accepting the help from the community, but spreading it out to the volunteers who risk their lives and pretty much rely on fundraising to make it work,” he said.
Although Fassl’s department receives some taxpayer dollars, most of their money comes from donations that go toward purchasing fire equipment and even fuel for the trucks, he said.
Pequeno was attending a business networking event when his cellphone started to ring. At first he ignored it, but after four calls in a row he picked up to his frantic neighbor shouting, “Your house is on fire! It’s gone!”
“I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ “ Pequeno said.
He managed to get home within 15 minutes, but by that point flames were shooting 20 feet into the air from the top of the roof. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Pequeno said he lost all of his material possessions in the fire, but he’s thankful no one was injured and he has a place to stay.
“This is bad, but someone always has it worse,” he said.