Is that your cell phone? Who is calling us in the middle of the night? I turned over in bed to find my husband looking out the window. He said,
“There’s a cop at the door.”
My heart sank, and a flood of adrenaline pumped through my body.
Before I could remember if any of our teenage children had gone out the night before, I was already up the stairs doing a headcount. Everyone was home. I knew that I could handle any news after that. We went down the stairs and opened the door.
“Do you own a business on South Avenue in Garwood?” “Yes,” answered Marty. “There is an active fire in the area.” “In the area?” He didn’t have any other details. Maybe it’s Taco Bell, I thought….that stuff is terrible for you anyway. We were in the car within minutes, parked the car, and headed toward the flurry of activity. A woman with a warm smile and calm demeanor asked us if we wanted a cup of coffee. I found myself unable to answer her but instead turned to Marty and asked him if we were dreaming.
We often hear of firefighters and law enforcement as a brotherhood, and now I understand why. They were working together as if they were reading each other’s minds like close siblings do. It was just another day in the office for them, but it was our hopes and dreams going up in smoke for us. One of the firefighters walked by in what seemed like slow motion, turned his head toward me, and said: “I’m sorry.” As I stared at him, unable to answer him either, I wondered why he was sorry. The fire was in the restaurant next door to us, so I figured we would be okay. But, why did this man look so familiar? It took me a few seconds to figure out how I knew him, and then it dawned on me; he was the inspector from the fire department who had been in our facility to instruct us on the items we needed to open our business. I followed him around with a notepad jotting down the things we would need; six smoke detectors, three emergency lights, two exit signs, and two fire extinguishers. Got it! Ironically, none of these items proved to be of any use to prevent or stop the fire or the damage we were about to see.
When the chief gave us the go-ahead to step inside our gym, we eagerly walked toward the front door and noticed it had been smashed to pieces. As we proceeded to walk on the debris and soot-covered floor, we looked up to find the ceiling tiles we had worked so diligently on were a mess. I remember the day Marty came back from The Home Depot with the heavy, cumbersome boxes. He put the first one up, and my son Alex and I noticed that it looked different from the others. As we looked closer, we realized they were different. How will I explain that the 1/2 inch crevices on the tiles he just purchased did not match the 3/4 inch crevices on the existing ones? How could I possibly ask him to return these giant boxes when logically I knew we were running out of time before opening day, he had already put so much energy and effort into the ceiling tile negotiations with the landlord, and we were all exhausted? When I told him I didn’t think they matched, he casually said that he couldn’t even tell and it will look fine. I didn’t want fine. I wanted our business to be perfect, right down to the matching tissue boxes. I cringed inside but turned on my sweet, newlywed tone of voice and said: “honey, they really should match, it’s important that we get everything right, so our members will be happy.” I delicately told him that if the ceiling tiles didn’t match, it would reflect our business. I said that I could return them myself because I knew how exhausted he was. In his exasperated state, he kissed me and said, “Honey, if you think it’s important, then I will return them.” and proceeded to load the car. Oh, how I love that man!
Things got worse as we walked toward the back of the building; holes in the walls, water covering the floors, drywall, glass, and insulation all over the turf, and more. I thought back to the night before when my son Nick and I meticulously cleaned the place to prepare our website photoshoot scheduled that day.
This fire has devastated us and broken our hearts. Active Life Fitness was our dream, our life, and our passion. The day after the destruction, one of our members gave us the biggest compliment we could ever receive. She said, “Fire? So what! What you have created is bigger than a measly fire. ALF has taken on a life of its own, and nothing can destroy that”. A life of its own? We did that?
In the short period of time that we were up and running, our members’ sense of community was growing. It was a friendly, happy place to be. Often, our members would say, “before Active Life Fitness, I dreaded going to the gym, and now I don’t want to leave.” Everyone was thrilled with their programs and noticed a difference in how they felt. The facility was clean and modern, and the personal training services we provided were like no other. This setback is a nuisance, to say the least, but I am grateful for everything we do have; a healthy, loving family, a roof over our heads, and food on the table (our teenagers with their voracious appetites may argue otherwise).
So to answer the question, “Will we rebuild”? Yes, and we will rebuild and make it even better than before.
Active Life Fitness Personal Trainers & Gym
94 North Ave, Garwood, NJ 07027