Eleven months ago, Capt. Thomas Conlan of the Wilton Police Department lost his home in a devastating house fire. Thankfully, his family–wife Ashley, and their three children–all got out in time, but the home and everything in it was a total loss. Today, they are back in their home, moving in just two weeks ago after it was completely rebuilt. He spoke to GOOD Morning Wilton editor Heather Borden Herve about what it’s like to be back home.
We kind of tried to keep the house the way it was, and just changed it a little bit. One of the biggest changes, we gave the two girls their own bathroom–we figured that would be a plus when they start to get older, but other than that it’s really similar to what it was. It made it a lot easier to come back because it really feels like you never left.
The girls sleep together now, they didn’t sleep together before, but now they sleep together. The rental house had four bedrooms, but we only used three of the rooms–there was a master bedroom downstairs, but the kids would never let us be on different floors than them. The two girls had a room, my son had a room, and we had a room. So now Kaitlyn (9) and Bryn (7) sleep together, which we don’t really mind–they both have their own rooms now, but they still sleep together.
GOOD Morning Wilton: The whole experience must have been really hard for them.
They handled it really, really well. But yeah, there’s still some things. They like to be together and if there’s ever a fire alarm that goes off they get really, really scared. I don’t think there’s going to be any lasting effect from it, but still to this day they’re a little skittish about stuff like that.
Kaitlyn didn’t want to come in the house until it was done. She wanted to surprised. She didn’t want to go up to her room until the bedding was there and her pillows were there and everything was up. They were happy to see the progress and see furniture and see a TV and that kind of stuff. They were happy.
Jake is 4 years old. He’s easy going. He sleeps by himself, where the girls are really scared about him because they’re older than him. But he didn’t miss a step, he came back and into his room. He goes to bed and he doesn’t get scared. He goes to school with my wife–she teaches in Bridgeport; he’s still in preschool and they have a preschool program there, so it makes it easy. He goes to school with her, he comes home with her, so he’s been really good and easy going.
They were all really happy when the cat came back, it was kind of a big thing. We have a cat [Cooper] and a dog [Callie]. We haven’t brought the dog back yet, but we have a cat and they both survived the fire. We hadn’t seen the cat for two days after the fire and it was an indoor/outdoor cat, so we weren’t really sure if it made it out. My neighbor called me and sent a picture, ‘Is this your cat?’ It was our cat. We’ve been keeping the cat inside now because we want the cat to make sure it knows where it lives before we let it out again. I think the cat’s going to realize just because the cat lived there for seven years before the fire.
My wife and I are just trying to get a little settled in before we bring the monster dog back. The dog will get into everything. She’s a year and a half old. But we’ve got the canine fence all repaired, so I think this Saturday we’ll go get the dog. That will be a big deal. The cat’s not going to like it, Cooper thought she was free of her, but the kids will love it when the dog comes back.
The day after the fire, it was a Sunday and I had called the insurance company that morning. You knew you had insurance, but you want to make that call just to make sure for someone to tell you had insurance. But the adjuster came out that day and he was like, ‘It could be a year before you get back in here.’ And I said, “No, no way, six months at the most.’ But it took 11 months.
We’ve got most of the furniture, but there are still some things, like my wife hasn’t been able to pick out all the vanity mirrors and stuff like that. There’s not a lot of decorating yet. It feels like the same house to me, but there’s definitely some homey stuff that’s not here yet. We just haven’t found everything where we want it. And then you go in the garage and there’s tons of stuff in the garage that we need to go through. We have to create areas for storage, and situate stuff. But other than that, aside from being a brand new house, it definitely feels like home again.
Thanksgiving’s usually at my mothers, but my mother is in her 80’s now so she’s trying to pass it off. I’m trying to talk my wife into having Thanksgiving here, but I don’t think she’s ready to go through all the work of it. Christmas will be the big deal when that comes around. The kids will be excited about that–last year they were kind of displaced. We got really lucky with the rental house, it was a nice place, but it will be nice when the holidays come around here again.
We probably could have waited another month to move in here–there’s still not a backyard yet really. I mean it’s just a disaster back there, the outside is, but we wanted to get back in before the kids went back to school. Their school started last Wednesday and we got in here Thursday before that. Although it’s probably 90% done in the house, there’s still a couple things, especially outside that need to be done. But we really, the deadline was, at least we wanted to be in before school started, it ended up being like a week before. We thought that was important.
People in Wilton couldn’t have been nicer after the fire. People at work…it was just great to see how everybody came to our aid and really let you know that so many people cared, which was kind of humbling. Even to this day.
It was kind of crazy, but it feels like we’ve turned a corner now. We’re back in and life’s back to normal–11 months later, but it was a crazy journey.
GMW: Was there anything you did to mark that first day back? Or was it more about getting back to normal?
Moving back in, we were mostly trying to watch the kids–how they were reacting to it all. There was not a lot of time for me and Ashley, to tell you the truth. It was more making sure the kids were happy and that they were comfortable. They seemed really happy when they came in. That was great.
Laying down or sitting on the couch and being like whew, oh man, finally home. This was one of the reasons we kept the house kind of similar. We just wanted to come back home again. We didn’t want to come back to a different house. The kids, I think they felt like that too, I think that made it easier for them. It was like we never skipped a beat, it’s like we never left.