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Video: 911 operator learns it’s his own house on fire

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    >>> he answers dozens of emergency calls a day, but for one massachusetts 911 operator , one call hit home because it was his home that was on fire. we will talk with mike bowes in just a minute, but first, nbc's jeff rossen has the tale of the tape .

    >> what's your emergency?

    >> there's a fire at hollis.

    >> reporter: the caller was right. this house in quincy, massachusetts, was on fire all right. witnesses say it looked like an explosion, and the 911 operator --

    >> let me get the fire department , stay on the phone.

    >> reporter: -- realized this was his home. oh, and his parents live here, too.

    >> it's surreal. it's -- you don't believe. you hear it, and it's not registering. until you see it on the screen and you see it, then all of a sudden, it's like, it's real, it's my house .

    >> reporter: mike bowes had to do his job, work the case like any other, but what about his family? were they okay?

    >> the garage and everything is on fire.

    >> you can't run out. you can't leave everybody else short-handed. you can't leave the city without help.

    >> reporter: luckily, mike's sergeant stepped in and took over. suddenly, the 911 dispatcher who helped so many people needed help himself. and so, his co-workers gave mike a police escort to the inferno that was his own home.

    >> you could actually see the orange glow coming from a distance. and as we got on scene, my main concern was my parents. and as they came around the corner, my father was standing out on the street and my mother was right behind him.

    >> reporter: everyone in the house escaped.

    >> nobody died. we can rebuild.

    >> reporter: what began as the most terrifying call of his career --

    >> what's your emergency?

    >> reporter: -- ended in relief for the man who's trained to keep calm even when he's the victim. jeff rossen , nbc news, new york.

    >> and mike bowes is with us exclusively this morning. mike, good morning.

    >> good morning.

    >> i know you were watching that tape and looking at your house , hearing your mother on the 911 call and you were taking deep breaths again this morning.

    >> it was stressful.

    >> you were taught and trained as a 911 operator . you've been doing this 11 years.

    >> 11 years.

    >> you say to stay calm under pressure-filled moments. what was this moment like for you?

    >> it didn't hit right away. i got the dreaddress, and i'm like, okay, say it again? and she said 99 hollis avenue, and it hit me and i knew it was my house . and my main concern was my parents, making sure they were out of the house .

    >> you just heard your mom on one of the tapes. you didn't take that call, though, right?

    >> no, five of us were working. someone else took the call and said, "your mother's on the phone. it is your house ."

    >> how long did you say i have to be there?

    >> within seconds, i was up and they were like, go, we'll take care of everything here. the police officer standing beside me said i'll drive you and we were there within three minutes.

    >> from a distance, what did you see?

    >> a distance, i could see the orange glow over the house . that was the scary part. but the relief was when i turned the corner and saw my parents standing in the street.

    >> wow. and your family has been in this house more than 20 years.

    >> yes.

    >> do you know what started the fire, how it began in the first place? skrr

    >> we do not. the arson investigation is investigating several different leads.

    >> and there is another family connection to this incident, your cousin? what role did he play?

    >> my cousin, firefighter tom bowes was the first firefighter on scene.

    >> wow.

    >> when they left the station, they could see the fire and he knew when he come down the hill it was our house .

    >> you took the call and he responded to the scene.

    >> yes.

    >> now, this house was destroyed, we should mention.

    >> it is.

    >> we were just talking, if i knew -- i'm on tv and i'm having to wear the only clothes i have left.

    >> yes, it was embarrassing. they said i'm going to be on here and i didn't have time to run and get anything.

    >> your clothes on your back. that's all you have left from your home, but everyone got out.

    >> yes, but everyone got out. we can rebuild. as long as everyone's safe. that's my main concern.

    >> i'm sure your parents were glad you were there to quickly respond and certainly you were trained to handle this type of thing. can you imagine anything quite like this? i assume your career is continuing as a 911 operator .

    >> yes.

    >> once you handle this, i assume you can handle anything.

    >> i hope.

    >> mike bowes , thank you for joining us.

    >> thank you.

By
TODAY contributor
updated 10/1/2009 12:16:43 PM ET 2009-10-01T16:16:43

Veteran Massachusetts 911 operator Mike Bowes is rarely rattled when he takes calls about a wide array of life-threatening emergencies. But one call he took about a blazing house fire in Quincy on a busy Friday night last week hit way too close to home. That’s because it was his home.

“It’s surreal,” the 11-year-veteran told Amy Robach on TODAY Thursday. “First you don’t believe it. You hear it, but it’s not registering. Then you see it on the screen and you realize … ‘It’s MY house!’ ”

Neighbors say the two-family house, where Bowes has lived on the first floor with his parents for more than 20 years, looked like it had been in an explosion.

‘Your mother’s on the phone’
The 911 switchboard lit up with calls about the inferno after the blaze ignited at about 10:45 p.m.— right in the middle of Bowes’ shift. One of those calls came from his own mother.

“I didn’t take that call,” Bowes told Robach. “There were five of us working. Another dispatcher turned around and said: Your mother’s on the phone … it IS your house.”

Naturally, Bowes’ first concern was for his parents’ safety, but he also was committed to doing his job.

“You can’t just run out,” he said. “You can’t leave everybody else and leave the city shorthanded and without help.”

Putting things into their proper perspective, Mike’s sergeant immediately stepped in and told him to go the scene and see to his family’s safety. The dispatcher who had spent his career helping people in distress suddenly needed help himself. “Within seconds, my sergeant said, ‘Go! We’ll take care of everything here.’ ”

A second coincidence
Battling his own worst fears, Bowes was rushed to the blaze in a police car, arriving in just 3 minutes.

“You could actually see the orange glow coming from a distance,” he said of the short but nerve-wracking trip. “My main concern was my parents. As I came around the corner I saw my father standing out on the street and my mother was right behind him.”

In fact, everyone in the house had escaped unharmed. Relieved at finding his mother and father safe, Bowes was met with yet another incredible coincidence when he arrived at the scene.

“My cousin Tom Bowes is a Quincy firefighter,” the still stunned dispatcher explained. “He was the first firefighter on the scene. He could see the fire as he left the station. As he came down the hill … he knew it was our house.”

TODAY
Bowes arrived at his own house to find it in flames.
Bowes and his family are left with the sobering realization that the house was totally destroyed by the fire; in fact, Bowes appeared on TODAY in the only clothes he has left.

Still, he says that his training and familiarity with similar disasters have helped him cope with the loss. “It’s embarrassing, because I didn’t have time to run and get anything to wear,” he said. “But everyone got out. We can rebuild. As long as I know everyone is safe … that’s my main concern.”

Early reports from the State Fire Marshall’s office said the fire may have been caused by an unattended outdoor fireplace that belonged to one of Bowes' neighbors. “We don’t know what started the fire, but the arson investigation is going on,” Bowes said. “They’re investigating several different leads.”

Despite the devastating experience, Bowes — who’s staying in a hotel — says he’s itching to return to his post as soon as possible. “I'll probably go back to work on Sunday,”  he said.

To contribute to a fund to assist the family of Mike Bowes, make checks payable to “Bowes Family Fund” and mail to:

Eastern Bank c/o Bowes Family Fund
731 Hancock Street
Quincy , MA. 02170

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

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