Amy Buckley, nine months pregnant, was on her front porch on an unusually warm Saturday evening when the smell of smoke caught her attention. Her husband, Rich Buckley, was inside, working on the repainting phase of their house-remodeling project. In a few days, contractors would be installing a new kitchen, putting the finishing touches on the five-year renovation of their Friendship Heights home.

Curious, Amy called Rich outside to help find the source of the odor. The two walked up and down the block, looking for neighbors who might be burning leaves. There was no sign of anything on fire. They shrugged off the mystery and headed back home. Just outside their front gate, they glanced up at their own house. Flames were crashing up through the roof and licking the sky.

For a few seconds, the couple stood and watched the flames. As the shock wore off, they agreed to sprint back inside, grab their cell phones and wallets, and meet up again on the front patio. When they got back outside, both of them dialed 911.

Both calls were put on hold. For 10 minutes, the Buckleys stayed on the line, watching the flames engulf their top floor. As their frustration mounted, they decided to go back into the first story while it was still clear of apparent danger.

Still keeping their cell phones to their ears, still on hold, they dashed inside again. Rich grabbed Amy’s purse, their wedding rings, and the brand-new camera they’d been given in anticipation of the arrival of their first child. Amy ducked in the door and mashed the fire panic button on the Brink’s Home Security system keypad there.

“It was almost instinctual,” Amy Buckley says. “I wasn’t really thinking. I was just so frustrated for being on hold.”

When they got back outside, the Buckleys hung up their cell phones. Within 10 minutes, the fire department was on the scene. Later, fire officials would admit to them that it was the home’s alarm system that had alerted firefighters to the blaze.

The couple had debated the merits of getting the security system for several months, they say. Rich thought that the house could do well without it, but Amy maintained that it would one day come in handy in an emergency.

The fire was contained within the attic within an hour of the arrival of the crews, but the Buckleys say the third floor is a total loss. Investigators say the fire was accidental, but have yet to determine what started it. Soot-ruined furniture sits strewn across their front yard, waiting to be picked up, and water damage has forced the couple to move into an apartment complex down the street. They say they anticipate being there for six months while the third-floor damage is repaired.

“It could have easily been the whole second floor if it hadn’t been for the button,” Amy Buckley says. CP

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