A Joplin family that a year ago Tuesday escaped a house fire after being alerted by smoke alarms and a monitored security system had a heartfelt reunion with the security dispatcher and local emergency responders who answered the call of duty.
ADT Security Services coordinated a reunion with the Joe and Amanda Whitlock family, the Joplin Fire Department, the Joplin Police Department and their security dispatcher working the call.
The Whitlocks' two-story home in the 500 block of South Jackson Avenue was outfitted with ADT security and fire protection services at the time of the blaze. A fire broke out around 12:30 a.m. Feb. 23, 2020, at their house due to an improperly disposed of cigarette.
The Whitlocks’ two children — Navaeh and Nick — and three other adolescents were in the house when the fire spread from the front porch to the living room in a matter of seconds. No one was injured. The parents were visiting only a few blocks away when the fire broke out.
“We had a friend who put his cigarette out on the porch, we had thought,” Joe Whitlock said. “About 15 to 20 minutes later after we had left, ADT had called us and told us we had a house fire. I immediately hung up the phone with them and called my son to make sure everybody was out of the house.”
Amanda Whitlock held back tears as she hugged Heather Madonia, an ADT emergency dispatch operator, for the first time outside of their newly renovated home.
Madonia, who’s stationed in New York, was the dispatcher who notified the Whitlocks and the authorities of the fire after the security system went off. She traveled over a thousand miles to Joplin to meet the family whose lives she helped save last February.
“I didn’t know what she looked like, but to see the person behind the phone, it was amazing that we finally got to meet her,” Amanda Whitlock said.
The residential and commercial operator answers 150 to 200 calls per day from around the country. She’s worked with ADT for 10 years and has been dispatching for two years.
For her quick response and professionalism, Madonia was given the ADT Life Saver Award at the Joplin reunion.
“I’m extremely thankful that it turned out like it has,” she said. “It’s the most rewarding experience of my career. I’m grateful that the family is protected, but on the same note, they’ve gone through a traumatic experience. That sticks with me, too, but it’s nice to have this because it’s the first time in 10 years that I’ve ever gotten to meet the family.”
ADT also donated $5,000 to both the Joplin police and fire departments during the reunion as a show of gratitude. Andy Nimmo, deputy chief with the Joplin Fire Department, said they’re pleased to have such a great working relationship with local police, EMS and dispatchers.
“It takes all of us for these instances to have a good outcome,” he said. “Everyone pulled together and made it a lot easier. There’s places in the country where that isn’t the case. We’re just very fortunate because we have a tremendous relationship with all of our partners.”
Joe Whitlock said he appreciated ADT for coordinating the one-year reunion with everyone who played a role that night. Amanda Whitlock thanked the fire department for saving their home and their children.
Security footage from inside of the house was shared with the Joplin Fire Department. In the video, Navaeh, who was 5 years old, was asleep on the couch in the living room as flames from the front porch inch toward the stairwell.
Navaeh began to cough, but she didn't seem to wake up or notice the fire until the smoke detector went off. Nick Whitlock, 14 at the time, can be heard in the background shouting, “Fire! There’s a fire!” and then leading the younger children to safety outside of the house.
Nick Whitlock said he was at the back of the house listening to music and playing a game with friends and his brother when he heard the alarms go off. He said it took awhile for the initial shock to wear off.
“I didn’t realize exactly what was happening until I was standing across the street,” he said. “As soon as I saw it, I started yelling. I took my sister in the backroom, and I told my cousin to get everyone out the back door. If it wasn’t for the alarms, I don’t think I would’ve heard the glass break.”
Another camera on the garage shows the kids evacuating on the driveway with assistance from police. Joplin police Officer Arthur Brophy was patrolling the area when he saw the smoke and made sure that everyone got out safely before additional help arrived.
The video from the night of the fire was shared thousands of times on social media.
“This was a fast-moving fire, and it was windy that night,” Nimmo said. “It was cold, and so many things could’ve gone badly, but in reality, it came out as good as it possibly could.”
'Getting back to normal'
Fast forward to one year later, and the renovations to Whitlocks' home, which had moderate damage, are now complete. The family moved in at the first of the year.
“Everything is getting back to normal, and the kids are going back to school,” Amanda Whitlock said. “We also have our ADT system back because it saved my kids’ lives. Even for them to come out here, it’s awesome.”
“Now, we’re doing really well, and we’ve moved back in,” Joe Whitlock said. “We’re very pleased with how they rebuilt it. We’re happy to be back in our home. I try to tell people that even if you don’t have a security system, at least install some fire alarms because without them, it could’ve turned out really bad.”