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Fire victim sounds call for help
trailer 1
Another view of what's left of the Altmans' home. - photo by Ralna Pearson

Though the afternoon was perfect for sitting outside chatting in the shade, Susan Altman wasn’t chatting, she was crying out for help.

“All I could do was scream,” Altman said of the day she returned and discovered her home on fire.

Dressed in donated clothes, the 50-year-old Altman gave a tour of the burned trailer she and her husband had lived in for 27 years.

The front part is completely destroyed while the back is pretty much salvageable, though still useless for living in.

On the morning of Feb. 12 her husband, Wayne, 53, had refused to take his medicine. She then left for Garden City to see a dentist. On the way back, though, she felt compelled to get home right away because of how her husband had acted that morning.

“Something was just gnawing at me,” she said.

When she returned and tried to open the front door, she heard a loud noise. Fire blew over her head. Her thoughts turned to her husband who was still inside the house. She screamed for help.

A neighbor’s daughter, Michelle Davis, heard her cries and alerted her father, Chuck Scarborough. He drove over, pulled Wayne out of the back bedroom window and broke the water line in two in order to apply water to the fire.

“Those two (Scarborough and Davis), if they hadn’t worked so fast, I don’t know where I’d been,” Altman said.
Her cousin Donna Fayer and her husband Kevin came over to help with putting the fire out. Guyton Public Works supervisor Michael O’Neal also helped.

She still doesn’t know what caused the fire, though the fire inspector thought it might have started in the kitchen. Altman countered that Wayne doesn’t cook.

Since the fire, she and her husband have been living in her mother’s home, which she is repairing. She has been trying to take her trailer apart and remove the debris.

The work has been overwhelming for her.

“Most of the time I work five hours in the afternoon (once it cools down),” she said.

Family members such as her cousin Angela and Angela’s friend Steve have been helping her when they can, but more help is needed.

She said she could really use some wheelbarrows.

Altman can’t burn the unsalvageable items because of the weather conditions, so everything has to be placed in a huge bin and trashed.

Once everything in the trailer has been taken out, a man she doesn’t even know has offered to remove the frame piece by piece, take it to the salvage yard and return the money to her.

Married for 27 years her husband is now unable to help her when she needs him the most. Wayne suffers from psychotic and erratic behavior and Alzheimer’s. Caring for him, on top of everything else, has drained her.

She keeps the car keys on a chain around her neck to keep him from driving off.  And she said more than once he has almost killed her.

He only started experiencing health problems in the past two years after a very bad car accident. He retired from the city of Savannah having worked at the wastewater treatment plant. He also was a volunteer firefighter with the Richmond Hill Fire Department and an emergency medical technician.

“A lot of things happened to him that shouldn’t have happened to him,” Altman said.

Though she explains all the details of the past couple months, Altman looks like she will fall asleep at any moment. The fact that she had taken the day off from working on the trailer seemed to make no dent in her fatigue.

“I still got a lot to do,” she noted.

It’s surprising she can do as much as she can considering that she is on heart medication, having suffered two previous heart attacks.

“I try to stand still in one place when I’m working,” she said.

She uses a crowbar to pull the trailer apart, yet it has torn her knuckles.

Altman said she turned to the media as a last resort to get help with the trailer. She has been unable to get help elsewhere.

“I don’t know where to turn to no more,” she admitted.

Those interested in helping should call 772-4225.