CITY OF NEWBURGH - The community is rallying around a volunteer firefighter and Army veteran after his family lost their home to a three-alarm fire in the city.
Eric Hill Sr., 34, Lenise Hill, 34, Eric Hill Jr., 7, and the couple's niece, Rebecca Scott, 19, lost their apartment at 69 Townsend Ave. and all their possessions in a fire on Feb. 20, but the family has remained in high spirits, "overwhelmed“ by the support.
“I'm usually running out of the house to help somebody …,” Eric Hill Sr. said. “To be on the other end and see it from that perspective, it means a lot.”
The day after the apartment the family rented for six years went up in flames, displacing them and another family that lived in an apartment below, Eric Hill Sr. responded as a volunteer with the Good Will Fire Department to help another family in Middle Hope going through the same pain.
It's just how the 17-year Army veteran, who served in three tours overseas, operates.
“You have your time to breathe and your time to think about stuff, but in that moment, somebody needs help,” Eric Hill Sr. said. “Going there the next day, getting right back into the things, helped me get back into my routine and back to some type of normalcy.”
Eric Hill Jr. and Scott were in the Townsend Avenue home when a neighbor knocked on their door and frantically rushed them out of the two-family home.
Scott, a musician, said the two ran outside with the clothes on their back and the few items they could grab.
“The whole backyard was engulfed in flames,” Scott said.
Eric Hill Jr., a typically playful, talkative and engaging second-grader, remembers the day clearly.
“It was scary because I was in the living room,” he said. “I saw smoke and then fire comes out and then it started to break through the window. The house, it just got burned. It makes me sad.”
Eric Hill Sr. was in New York City at the SAE Institute, where he is studying music production and audio engineering. Lenise Hill was on her way home from work. The family is now staying in a hotel.
The other family affected by the fire is staying with family, Newburgh city fire Chief Bill Horton said.
Lenise said the support her family has received has helped them make the best of their devastating situation.
“Have a sense of pride in your community,” Lenise Hill said. “Support your community. You never know when you'll need them.”
Horton said Thursday the cause of the fire is still undetermined.
The Good Will Fire Department set up a GoFundMe on behalf of the family that raised $1,850 by the time of this report to help the family secure new housing, clothing and furnishings to replace what was lost.