Book Cellar Rallies Community Around Employee After Apartment Fire

By Patty Wetli | Friday, June 1, 2012

Jon and Amelia Fullmer

For a guy who just lost his apartment in an extra-alarm fire, Jon Fullmer seems surprisingly upbeat.

“This response is keeping us afloat,” he said during last night’s fundraiser at the Book Cellar, where he’s been employed since 2008. “The generosity has been overwhelming. I don’t know how to respond.”

Almost immediately after learning of the misfortune of Jon and his wife Amelia (aka, Amy), who’s expecting the couple’s first child in mid-June, the Book Cellar staff mobilized Chicago’s literary community. “The very first thing we did was set up a PayPal account,” said Schuyler Anderson, a fellow Book Cellar staffer. Word quickly spread via Facebook, even reaching celebrated author Neil Gaiman, who re-posted the information.

Anderson and co-worker Brandon Will then started planning Thursday night’s fundraiser, which featured readings, comedy performances and a raffle, with prizes provided by neighboring Lincoln Square businesses. So far, people have contributed more than $10,000 to help the Fullmers get back on their feet.

“[Amy] said, ‘I didn’t expect that kind of support in the city,’” Anderson said. “It’s still the Midwest–we have a sense of decency.”

For Jon, who’s also co-editor of Knee-Jerk Magazine, it’s been a rollercoaster week that began the morning of May 24 when he checked the weather forecast and noted in passing the high wind and fire warnings. He never expected the sirens would be heading his way.

“I was home when it started, I called it in,” he recalled. “I desperately tried putting it out.” As flames licked the back porch of the Fullmers’ fourth-story apartment, Jon filled buckets “with puny amounts of water” and dialed 9-1-1. With camping equipment, including propane tanks, on the porch, “I was ready for an explosion.”

He grabbed his computer, “just in case,” and headed to the street to hail down the fire engines. “I heard sirens everywhere. I was praying there was still time for things to be OK.”

It took more than an hour for firefighters to extinguish the flames. The building has since been condemned, with the Fullmers’ three-bedroom unit bearing the brunt of the damage. They’d moved in just two months prior and hadn’t even completely unpacked.

“We’re just glad the baby hadn’t been born,” said Amy. “That would have been scarier.”

At the moment, the couple are bunking with friends, hunting for a new apartment and beginning the process of replacing their possessions (“Some of our furniture, actually it’s kind of a relief.”). For Jon, the biggest loss has been his collection of more than 1,000 books–all burned–and his mother’s diaries. “My mother died when I was seven or eight and I had just this winter acquired her journals.”

Anderson has been contacting sales reps at publishing houses to help Jon rebuild his library, his request meeting with nothing but positive responses.

The couple, who had been “trying to get everything perfect for the baby,” now have the perspective of people who’ve gained much in the process of losing everything. Said Jon, “It’s humbling us a lot.”

If you’d like to help the Fullmers, visit the PayPal page, which also includes a link to items that people are donating (baby clothes, dishware, etc.).

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