Children’s hospital donates car seats to families who lost vehicles in pumpkin patch fire
TEMPLE, Texas (KWTX) - Many Central Texas families have been left without car seats following a devastating fire at a popular Central Texas pumpkin patch.
However, McLane Children’s Hospital has come to the rescue.
“Every child deserves a car seat and needs a car seat, and car seats, they’re expensive,” said Sarah Wheat, Trauma Program Manager at McLane Children’s Hospital. “They’re $175-$200 a piece, so this was a very cost-prohibitive thing for these families, and we were worried there were going to be kids not in car seats.”
As of Monday, the Temple hospital had donated eight, brand new car seats to families who fell victim to a fire that broke out at the Robinson Family Farm on Oct. 15.
“We have a very generous and consistent donor who always makes sure we have car seats available to victims of car crashes or injuries that need new and different car seats, and so we have those available, and we were able to provide them immediately,” said Wheat.
Wheat had actually just left Robinson Family Farm minutes before the fire broke out.
She says a business partner with the Killeen-Temple Metropolitan Planning Organization suggested to her the families affected would need car seats.
“Some families needed more than one,” said Wheat.
One of those eight car seats went to Killeen resident Isela Rebolledo to give to her 16-month-old grandson whose car seat was incinerated.
“I had a Chrysler 2019 and I only owed five more payments, I was waiting to finish paying it to get a house,” said Rebolledo. “Everything is just gone, there’s nothing left, just the metal part on the bottom of the floor.”
Rebolledo, who moved to Killeen four years ago from the Brownsville area, says they started going to the farm three years ago as a new Fall tradition.
“The setup was beautiful, we had been taking pictures,” said Rebolledo. “But now, I’m just still in disbelief.”
She says her daughter and three grandchildren had only been to the farm with her for about 30 minutes and were in line to get drinks when the fire broke out.
“It was a lot, you could see light grey smoke, I got nervous instantly because I told my daughter ‘I’m going to go move my car,’ then they got on speaker asking people to evacuate and move our cars,” Rebolledo told KWTX Monday. “I was already running toward my car, all I could hear was the cars exploding just like fireworks one after the other, I didn’t remember where I parked, thank God for a gentleman, he pulled me aside because I was so focused, I didn’t see the fire was under my car already...if I’d tried to crank my car, I could have exploded.”
Rebolledo says her daughter’s purse was in the car, so they’ve had a logistical nightmare trying to order new credit cards and identification documents, as well as replace a $220 car key.
“In minutes your life changes drastically,” she said. “Unfortunately, my insurance hasn’t contacted me yet, I did the claim and the adjustors did an investigation, which was stressful and ugly, they make you seem like you did it on purpose, but I’m waiting now on the outcome to see what they’re going to pay or not.”
Rebolledo says the stress at the scene caused her to have an anxiety attack.
“It was really scary, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t catch my breath, I was hyperventilating, I had to get checked by EMS,” said Rebolledo. “My girls, they thought something had happened to me, my girls are traumatized.”
Another woman who was also waiting in line for lemonade when the fire started, says she also suffered an anxiety attack.
“Once we realized that our car was involved in the fire...my heart just dropped, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t function, I was just in shock, I couldn’t form words, I couldn’t speak, I could not function because of all of the chaos that was surrounding all of it,” said Cortney Senn. “You can hear all the people crying, the kids crying ‘what’s going on,’ it was terrifying.”
Senn, who lives in Gatesville and just moved to Central Texas in October of 2020, says this was her first visit to the farm.
Her car is supposed to finally getting towed away Tuesday.
“It didn’t get as crispy as many others, ours might be repairable, but the smoke damage is just horrendous,” said Senn.
The mother of three says her children, 14-year-old and ten-year-old daughters and a five=year-old son, are crushed.
“My kids were very upset because all their belongings were in the car, their cell phones, their Nintendo’s, some treats that we had just gotten at the store on the way there, their favorite lovies they cuddle with...it was very sad and heart-breaking,” said Senn.
Out of everything that was destroyed, however, she says losing her son’s car seat was the most upsetting.
“Parts of it were melted from the heat of the flames, it’s just deformed looking and it wasn’t something I felt comfortable putting my son back in,” said Senn.
After the fire, people in the community started coming together to help donate used car seats to victims.
However, in addition to experts not recommending using pre-owned car seats, neither Senn or Rebolledo felt comfortable with it.
“I appreciate it and I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I don’t feel comfortable putting my child in a used car seat by word-of-mouth of strangers,” said Senn. “Even with a little fender bender, insurance wants you to replace that car seat.”
Thankfully, she says, a few days later she received an email from the Robinson Family Farm letting her know that the hospital could provide new, unused car seats to fire victims.
“I was very grateful that they reached out and said that they had one, we still were not in a financial position to be able to purchase one on our own just yet,” said Senn. “So just ‘thank you’ to the hospital, from the bottom of my heart.”
Authorities say 73 vehicles were destroyed in the fire.
The cause is still under investigation.
Rebolledo says, since they didn’t have family in the area to depend on for help, they’re grateful for the the hospital’s support.
“I’m really impressed by McLane Children’s Hospital and what they did for us,” said Rebolledo. “It was a peace of mind, because we live day-by-day, we’re on a tight budget, you can’t find cheaper than $150 or $180 a car seat, so it really means a lot to us.”
Wheat says she’s honored to be able to help families by providing something priceless--safety--during tough times.
“That’s the whole reason I became a nurse is to impact people when it really mattered, so to be able to do this seems small for an organization or for the donor to give these funds, but to these families it means everything, so to be a part of that is very, very satisfying,” said Wheat. “To have the backing of, not just this facility, but also our donors that make sure we have the funds available to provide those (car seats), is remarkable.”
“It’s not just a place to work--it’s a mission,” said Wheat.
Johnson Brothers Ford in Temple donates new car seats to the hospital regularly to make sure they’re stocked and prepared to help children when disaster strikes.
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