Firefighters step up for relative of fallen comrade after fire ravages home

CHICAGO — Almost a year ago, Julie and Robert Carnithan lost everything they owned when fire gutted their Beverly home. They'd hoped to rebuild by next Christmas, but now they are worried whether they will have a home at all.

"I don't know what we are going to do. We're out of options so to speak," Julie said. "I really don't know where we go from here."

Contractors told them the entire house would need to be rebuilt from the ground up, but their insurance would only cover the depreciated value, coming up short of the money needed to rebuild. On top of that, they've been living in a rental while still paying their old mortgage. It was all adding up to be too much.

Word of their situation reached Ignite the Spirit, a charity supported by the Chicago Fire Department that swoops in to assist firefighters and their families in times of need. Julie's own cousin was Billy Grant, a firefighter who died in the line of duty in 2007.

"We do the fire and leave and the families are left with what's left, which is destruction and their lives are turned upside down. It's nice when we can come back and do something to help. That's what Ignite The Spirit is all about," president Rich Pinskey said.

Ignite the Spirit gave what they could to help the Carnithans. Friends and family also contributed to a GoFundMe campaign to help them get back on their feet. But they still won't be in a home by the holidays, so the guys who usually answer the call are putting out their own mayday.

"We want to give people hope. That's what the holidays are all about. Show them that there are people out there that will help," Pinskey said.

Ignite the Spirit has helped more than 500 families like Julie over the years, but they rely entirely on the generosity of others to do that work.