A vandal smashed windows and tore up a special trailer used to teach Spokane children about fire safety.
Perhaps worse was the damage to a small picture Tuesday evening. Beneath the shattered glass are the faces of four little boys killed in a house fire 18 years ago – a tragedy seared in the city’s memory of lives cut short by the dangers of fire.
The framed photo served as a memorial for the Schliebe boys, Derek, 8, Loren, 7, Steven, 4, and Justin, 2. It hung in the Spokane Fire Department’s Children’s Fire Safety House.
“Aside from the damage itself, it’s larger than just the fire department,” said Brian Schaeffer, assistant fire chief. “It’s larger than the vehicle. It’s the purpose behind it. It’s saved lives in Spokane. Somebody decided they didn’t share the same values.”
He has no idea what could have compelled someone to do such a thing. Nothing was stolen. Computers and televisions installed in the trailer were left behind. He estimates it will cost between $1,000 to $3,000 to repair the trailer.
Spokane police officers drove by the safety house where it was parked outside Bemiss Elementary School at about 6 p.m. Tuesday, Detective Lydia Taylor said. Witnesses saw somebody throwing rocks at the trailer windows. Officers have leads, she said, but haven’t made any arrests.
The picture will be repaired and reframed. The department’s mission to help save lives in fires will carry on.
Projects like the safety house are designed to help prevent tragedies like the deaths of the Schliebe boys, Schaeffer said. The four died when a candle in their home sparked the blaze. Their parents, Jill and Rob Schliebe, survived the fire.
The trailer was built in 1992 through funding by Spokane Area Rotary Clubs, according to the original charter for the project. Volunteers built the two-floor mobile unit with fixtures donated by local businesses.
“They were just taking bits and pieces here and putting it all together,” Schaeffer said.
The fire department visits area elementary schools, providing simulations in fire safety. A television screen in front of a fake oven displays potential fire hazards. The door knobs heat up. There’s a ladder on the second floor that leads to safety on the ground.
Children love it, Schaeffer said, and the program works. He’s talked to children after fires who say they were able to help after the safety training.
“They were a lot more calm, they understood what a smoke detector was, they got mom or dad out,” he said. “It’s cool to hear. That stuff works.”
Schaeffer said the break-in occurred after their final demonstration of the year, so fortunately there’s time to rebuild before school starts again. But it’s frustrating and disappointing to know that someone could leave a space built by volunteers in shambles, he said.
“So many people gave their time and their lives and their money to build this and somebody took that away,” Schaeffer said.