PEABODY — Darin Chin-Aleong heard the danger first. Then, he felt it.
Returning home from an errand on the morning of January 10, 2013, Chin-Aleong was greeted by high-pitched chirps of smoke detectors coming from the house that stands next to the Wenham Country Club golf course, the place where he has worked as the Head Golf Professional since 2006.
Chin-Aleong quickly assessed the situation. After feeling the heat radiating through the door, Chin-Aleong retreated to a neighbor’s house to call 9-1-1.
The Chin-Aleong family suffered major loss that morning, a loss that they’re still recovering from. But the family’s story is more about what remains and what they have gained.
The Chin-Aleong’s were fortunate that nobody was home when a kitchen fire started because of a burner that was left on. Darin and his wife Trina, sons Tyler (age 4) and Jackson (2) and the family dog, a yellow lab named Mulligan, were all unharmed. The house didn’t burn to the ground, but it had to be gutted. They were basically left with a few loads of laundry that were recovered from the basement and the clothes on their backs.
What they learned that day — and for weeks after — was that the community had their back.
“We lost everything. We weren’t able to recover anything because of the smoke damage. When they knocked down the asbestos (in the ceiling) there’s a substance in it called vermiculite, which is considered hazardous,” Trina Chin-Aleong said. “After the event, the hours following even, it was pretty amazing, pretty humbling experience for us. We’re usually on the other end of giving back to the community, but immediately support from the community started to come in, and we were overwhelmed.”
The family was amazed with the support shown by the fire departments of Wenham and Hamilton, and the police departments of Wenham, Beverly and Hamilton. The family received generous gifts and donations from people from the Ayer School in Beverly, where Trina works as a teacher, and from the golf community at Wenham Country Club.
Through word of mouth, donations began pouring in from across the North Shore.
“People were leaving stuff at the police station for us,” Darin said. “We’d get calls from the police department saying there’s a bag of stuff for us and I would go fill up the car.”
Initially, the family moved in with Trina’s mother in Beverly, but the cape-style house wasn’t big enough to add two more adults, two children and a dog.
Darin began searching for a place to rent while the family’s home was cleaned out and rebuilt. The hard part for the Chin-Aleong’s was finding a place where Mulligan could live with them. Eventually, Darin and his family moved into a townhouse at Avalon Essex in Peabody.
Even after settling into their townhouse and knowing that within a year they’d be able to move home, the Chin-Aleong’s still suffered through the heartbreak, especially Darin.
Working at the course, Darin would see people carrying his family’s objects out of the house and loading them into a tractor trailer bound for a Pennsylvania landfill.
“The hardest thing is it never burned down, but it took them like three months to get everything out and bagged,” Darin said.
They could see their possessions, but couldn’t take them back. All of those things just served as a reminder of the fire.
“Darin I think had commented at one point that it almost would have been better to have it burn to the ground so you couldn’t see the stuff,” Trina said. “I think he said it matter-of-factly, but we could still see the physical stuff and know it’s our but we can’t have it. That was a hard lesson to learn.”
Darin and Trina felt Tyler was old enough to have some understanding of what happened. Tyler’s biggest concerns were his toys, particularly his Thomas the Train toys. In time, through donations, all of those toys were replaced. Jackson, meanwhile, didn’t understand, but it affected him enough that he began calling their home the “broken house.”
That broken house is about a month away from being finished, and the Chin-Aleong’s will never forget what they’ve been through and who helped them through it.
“I guess like anything else, whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger,” Trina said. “It sounds so cliche, but you know clearly if you can get through this, you can get through just about anything.”