Layla Wray is the only 911 dispatcher on her 12-hour shifts in tiny Madison County, Texas (population: just under 14,000 as of 2013). Her children, 14-year-old Kassidee and 11-year-old Dylan, don't call 911 to talk to their mother when she is at work. So when a call came in to the dispatch late in the evening of Friday, January 9 while she was on duty, Wray was not expecting her own daughter on the other end of the line.
"Mommy... Mommy... It's Kassidee. The house is on fire," Wray's daughter said, panicked.
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"I didn't believe it at first," Wray told TODAY Parents. I think I asked her more than once, 'Our house?'"
While Wray tried to keep herself calm so she wouldn't let her daughter know how upset she was, a police officer in the dispatch office with Wray overheard what she was saying and dropped everything to race over to the Wrays' property in Madisonville, Texas — in the country, Wray said, at least eight miles outside of town — and she called the other available police officers to join her.
Wray stayed behind, compelled to stay on the phone so she would not have to hang up on her daughter. "I just needed to be calm for Kassidee so I could hear what was going on," Wray said. "I knew if she started crying, I wouldn't be able to understand what she was saying, and I knew my husband would be trying to get my son out of the house."
After Wray had done everything she could do by calling the county's volunteer firefighters and rousing them from their beds, she asked Kassidee to give the phone to the nearest adult. "I needed to hear that everyone was out of the house," she said.
Though help reached the house in record time, the Wrays' home was totally destroyed in the fire, with the exception of their garage. An investigation is still underway to determine the fire's cause. Wray's 11-year-old son had been awake late because it was a Friday night, heard popping on the back porch, and looked outside to investigate when the internet suddenly went out. That is when he saw the fire; the popping noises had been paint cans exploding in the flames.
Wray's husband, Billy, had not even had time to put on his shoes when they evacuated. He was standing outside barefoot in the 20-degree winter weather, struggling to get his frozen garden hoses to work, when the firefighters arrived.
Unfortunately, the Wrays had been in the process of preparing to buy home insurance when the fire happened. "I had gotten quotes, but the companies told me I needed to cut back some 100-year-old trees before I could be insured," Wray explained. They were just waiting for their tax refund to afford the work. They had no coverage at the time of the fire.
One of Wray's friends in the police department, Calicia Bohan, set up a Go Fund Me for the family to help them start over. She has already raised over $12,000 for them from over 150 donors. But in the meantime, the entire town has come to the Wrays' aid. "People come to the hotel where we are staying in town and pay our bill for us," said Wray. "There has been an outpouring of donations from other cities and even other states. People bring clothes and school supplies to the hotel and the sheriff's office all day long."
Wray, who also works part-time at a local grocery store, said she finds the community support "amazing." "You see bad things all the time and you forget how nice people can be," she said. "It amazes me that people care that much and are so worried about my children." One law enforcement officer even took the trouble to find out what the Wrays had received for Christmas so he could try to replace all the presents they had lost so soon afterward.
The Wrays' children are back at school, and Wray herself is back on the job at the 911 dispatch office. "In this job, you have to be compartmentalized. I could have somebody die on every one of my shifts," Wray told TODAY Parents. "At the end of the 12 hours, I have to go back to my life and my home. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I took every call home with me."
Any other night, she said, she might have received a call about a house fire and hung up and never spoken to the family again. "Now I am going through the part after the phone call that I didn't know about before," she said.
To contribute to the Wray family's Go Fund Me, click here.