Fire takes home; support pours in
Geni and Duke Tieman's neighbors and city want to make sure the couple are taken care of.
By THERESA BLACKWELL, Times Staff Writer
Published December 15, 2007
CLEARWATER - Community activists Duke and Geni Tieman have always helped their South Greenwood neighbors.
Now their neighbors want to return the favor.
At 1:30 a.m. Friday, smoke detectors awakened the Tiemans in their home at 1120 Kingsley St. Flames were shooting through the roof when firefighters arrived and the home was declared a total loss from fire, smoke and water damage, according to Elizabeth Daly-Watts, a spokeswoman for the Clearwater Police Department.
The Tiemans were taken to Morton Plant Hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. Duke Tieman was in good condition and Geni Tieman was in fair condition Friday afternoon, a spokesman for the hospital said.
Several pets, including a small dog, a parrot and five other birds, perished. Three other dogs and a cat survived.
Daly-Watts said the fire was caused by an electrical malfunction in the attic. The home's smoke detectors probably saved the Tiemans' lives, she said.
At the house midday Friday, the couple's son, Michael Tieman of Clearwater, 53, was closing up the house with two of the couple's grandchildren and other helpers.
"We've had quite an outpouring of support from the neighborhood and the city," he said.
The man who picks up the Tiemans' garbage, a neighbor, stopped to ask about them. Clearwater police officers stopped by the house too, after visiting the hospital.
When he arrived at the fire about 2 a.m., Michael Tieman said, his mother was already at the hospital. His father was standing in front of the house with a flashlight in one hand and a cell phone in the other.
"He was actually directing the firemen," until they sent him to the hospital, Michael Tieman said.
After escaping, Geni Tieman went back into the house to try to save the rest of their pets, said Adam Wilson, 34, the Tiemans' grandson.
Max, a 40-year-old parrot with a vocabulary of 500 words and lover of National Public Radio and classical music; Ying-Yang, a black and white Shih Tzu-poodle mix; and five other birds were still inside.
But the smoke was too thick. "So my dad had to yank her back out," Michael Tieman said.
Mayor Frank Hibbard, who has known the couple for about seven years, was at the hospital before 9 a.m., offering to take the Tiemans into his home when they leave the hospital.
Duke Tieman was Clearwater's 2007 nominee in the Florida League of Cities Citizen of the Year contest.
"He's very emotional," Hibbard said. "Anybody who's lost all their possessions - maybe a lot are replaceable, but a lot are not - he's emotional. But in typical fashion, he's putting everything in perspective and he's thankful for the health of his wife and his health."
The mayor called the couple incredible advocates for the community and "very passionate, yet realistic."
Duke, 74, is the owner and broker for Bruce Taylor Realty in Safety Harbor. He and Geni live modestly in their South Greenwood home, but neighbors say whenever someone needs something, they find the resources to help. Many a child receives a Christmas present from them.
Next-door neighbor Lisa Glenn, 40, has three children and said she thinks her son Tray is the Tiemans' favorite.
"They never forgot any of my kids' birthdays," she said. "Christmastime, they always gave gifts."
Geni Tieman always told Glenn not to give them anything in return.
"My phone has been ringing all day long with folks expressing concern," said neighbor Lois Cormier, 76. "Duke and Geni have done a lot for the city and our neighborhood and we feel very bad."
They have tirelessly completed project after project, such as establishing a neighborhood watch program, creating a police substation and building a fishing pier on Lake Bellevue, to name just a few.
"We're all feeling very thankful that, No. 1, they're alive and not badly injured," Cormier said. "And it's making us all realize that this could happen to anybody."
Times staff writer Melanie Ave and Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Theresa Blackwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727 445-4170.
A trust account has been set up at Liberty Bank, 1617 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., to help the couple re-establish themselves. Checks can be dropped off or mailed to the attention of Jeanette Renfrow, Liberty Bank, 1617 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., Clearwater, FL 33755. Or call Renfrow at (727) 723-7273.
Clearwater residents who need free smoke detectors can call the city's fire prevention office at (727) 562-4327. Most other fire departments also offer free alarms for residents who need them.