Hannigan family rebuilding with thanks

15 years ago

Fire brings blessings from ashes  and a guardian angel

By Karen Donato
Staff Writer

    LITTLETON — Little did Rick Hannigan know when he left for work on Oct. 26, he would not have a home to come back to. As this family faced tragedy, a chain of events reinforced their faith.
ImageHoulton Pioneer Times photograph/Karen Donato
THANKFUL — Rick and Cindy Hannigan and family of Littleton have reaped many blessings since losing everything to a fire in October. They feel very fortunate to live in a place where folks not only from their own community, but the surrounding towns have been so generous. They have been overwhelmed by gifts from complete strangers. Seated from left, Tyler and Tommy. Standing from left Nick, Rick, Cindy and Erin.
    In the early afternoon, Hannigan’s wife Cindy took a shower in the upstairs bathroom in preparation for her job at Madigan Estates Nursing Home. When she stepped out of the shower the room was filled with smoke and the smoke detectors were sounding.
     “I pulled my clothes on as fast as I could and ran downstairs,” she said. “The smoke was thick. As I went through the kitchen I scooped up two kittens that we had just gotten, but I could not find our dog.”
    She ran outside in her bare feet. Luckily, she had been out earlier in the day and left the family van in the driveway with her purse still inside. She had her cell phone in her pocket. She frantically called 9-1-1, but due to her location at the end of the Littleton Station Road, the Canadian call center, instead of Maine’s picked up the call.
    At the same time an unidentified man stopped. Using his cell phone was successful reaching the proper departments. Both Littleton and Monticello responded and were also assisted by Houlton. This man also called Madigan Estates to let them know Cindy would not be able to come to work.
    Cindy still does not know who the man was, and hopes someone reading this article will let them know. She and her family will be forever grateful for his timely arrival.
ImageHoulton Pioneer Times photograph/Karen Donato
GONE — Only the foundation remains from the house fire at the Hannigan home on the Ridge Road in Littleton.

    Several of Littleton’s volunteer firemen were working at their jobs nearby and arrived quickly to help fight the fire.
    Rick is employed by Terry Lincoln’s Plumbing and Heating Company. His boss, working in Littleton that day arrived on the scene first. When Cindy was finally able to reach her husband, she emotionally tried to tell him what was happening, before she said fire, his first thoughts were that something had happened to one of their children.
    He quickly left his job on Commonwealth Avenue and headed for Littleton. Hannigan, a volunteer fireman himself, stopped at the Littleton Fire Station to pick up the tanker and gear up.
    Once there, he hugged his wife and then proceeded to go into the house with Kenny Moran, another fireman. The smoke was black, and it was pretty hot, but they were able to get upstairs before they had to turn back.
    While standing on the lawn watching their home burn, they had two offers from people for places to live. Mary Jo Trecartin gave her shoes to Cindy, who was barefoot, other people handed them cash. The blessings were just beginning.
    Knowing that the firemen were doing everything they could, the Hannigans decided to drive to Houlton to pick up their four children, all students in the Houlton school system. They wanted to be able to let them know, before they heard it from someone else.
    Nick, a freshman and Erin, a seventh-grader, were surprised when they saw their parents and immediately thought something was wrong. Then the family went to Southside School to pick up twins, Tommy and Tyler. These sixth-graders saw their Dad first and thought maybe he had gotten a new work truck and was going to give them a ride, but just at the time when they were going to find out their Dad’s cell phone rang. It was a call from the insurance company.
    A work at-home employee of F.A.Peabody Insurance Company, who lives in Littleton, had contacted the agency to let them know about the fire. At 2:30 p.m. their insurance agent was calling Hannigan to tell him there would be a check in the mail that day for emergency living expenses. Another blessing, they had insurance.
    When the Hannigans went to pick up their children, their home was still standing. When they went back, it was gone. Something they hadn’t thought about when they left — but the fire was into the walls and it could not be saved.
    The Hannigans have been busy raising their family, with four children, close in age; it has taken a lot of hard work. Cindy has stayed at home and provided day care for other children until just a few months ago. It was fortunate she did not have the toddlers at the house on this day, since they would have been having their naps in different rooms. Another blessing.
    The family spent a lot of time together earlier in the fall cutting and splitting their own winter supply of wood. They had stacked it in their basement. Six cord to be exact.
    They had also bought a new freezer and put a quarter side of beef in it over the weekend. They intended to have it and the wood last more than a couple of days.
ImageHoulton Pioneer Times photograph/Karen Donato
TREASURES FROM THE FIRE — These pieces of jewelry were found after fire destroyed the Rick  Hannigan home in Littleton. The pieces included silver charms and a necklace. They each have a special meaning for Hannigan’s wife, Cindy.

    Many of us would be devastated to go through this tragedy, and the Hannigans are no different however, they are not dwelling on their losses, they are counting their many blessings.
    Both Hannigan and his wife said that the response from their own community has been overwhelming, but did not expect the outpouring from other communities and churches. They received money, bags and bags of clothes, food, and gift cards. There’s not a day that goes by that someone doesn’t offer something or have items to give them. Their greatest surprise is that they have been receiving things from people that they don’t even know and from communities other than Littleton. The local quilting club gave each of them a quilt.
    The children also received gifts from their classmates and teachers at school. What surprised the Hannigan teens most was that other students they didn’t even know reached out to help them. They said that was very impressive. Someone took the four children out to shop for Halloween costumes; others gave each member of the family a gift card. Someone else took the kids shopping to buy them each a new outfit.
    During our conversation, they did recall some of the special items they lost that couldn’t be replaced, such as photos with their late grandfather and favorite things from their younger days.
    One of the twins was standing in line at McDonalds with a friend just a few days after the fire. He and his friend were talking about the fire along with what they were going to order. Just when it was their turn to step up to the counter the customer ahead of them turned and gave them two apple pies, because he had overheard the conversation.
    When asked how this had changed them as a family, their responses were very emotional. The first words from the children were how glad they were their mother got out safely. They are more thankful for each other.
    I could tell how sincere they were in their statements just from the looks they gave to each other, and the tears that came to the surface.
    They feel very blessed to be in such a close-knit community. The Hannigans, members of the Littleton Baptist Church says their faith has kept them focused. If they had been asked how they would deal with losing all their possessions before the fire, they said they would have thought about it differently, but now that it has happened they realize what really is important in life. “Stuff” can be replaced, people can’t be.
    They are thankful for each other and Cindy sees lots more tolerance between the siblings.
    “There have been some days when I have been down,” said Hannigan, “but just about that time, one of the kids will tell me how someone at school or from the church has given them something and then I forget about feeling down.”
    On a side note, there is an old saying, “You reap what you sow.”
    This old saying may describe the life Rick Hannigan leads. You see I know that he made a point to visit the late Cedric Shaw when he was confined to our local hospital from September 2007 until his death in March of 2008. He not only stopped in the morning, but again before he went home from work. Shaw was a friend and a church member, not family, but Hannigan went out of his way to make that visit.
    Hannigan’s pastor, Steve Straubel says of him, “Rick would not want me to be drawing attention to him, but he does anything and everything for our church. He looks in on many of our parishioners and often lends a hand to others.” “Rick is a very caring and giving person,” he added.
    Straubel went on to say, “The day of the fire, people were pulling up to the driveway and giving me money for them.”
    “Later, when I asked him what he needed,” said Straubel, “I expected him to say work clothes and boots, but his answer was, ‘I need a Bible’.”
    I noticed during my interview there was a new Bible on the table in front of him. His prayer was answered.
    The Hannigans are rebuilding on the same site, but in the meantime are staying in a house next door to the Littleton Baptist Church. A home that was going to be empty for the winter now has lots of activity thanks to its generous owner.
    I interviewed the children first, and when I was finished they went off to do their homework, with a reminder from their Dad to share the computer. With four students, and only one computer it requires scheduling times. The computer was one item they had to replace right away.
    Just before ending our interview Cindy showed me some jewelry Rick had found in the ashes. One item was a sterling silver Christmas charm representing her first son’s birth; another was one of four baby shoe charms, a locket, a pearl necklace, and her class ring, all blackened from the fire. Blackened but recognizable and significant. Items that trigger memories the fire cannot destroy.