“I was on the way home. My friend left me a voicemail: ’your house is on fire.’” Henrico County resident Walter Flanagan recounted the events of December 4, 2018, when he learned that his house suffered extensive damage due to a kitchen fire.
Flanagan, who lives on a fixed income and does not have home insurance, decided to stay in a tent on his property that night, despite the snowy weather. The following morning, Fire Battalion Chief Henry Rosenbaum noticed Flanagan and spoke to him about his situation. Shortly thereafter, Rosenbaum contacted County Building Inspector John Butler, who acted right away to help Flanagan. Butler’s efforts quickly escalated into a community partnership between Henrico County, local churches, volunteers, and local businesses, all of whom assisted Flanagan in securing temporary housing during the holidays while his home was repaired – at no cost to him!
Butler recalls that his first goal was getting Flanagan out of the tent. “I contacted a couple of local churches and got him into a hotel; that was the first step in getting him out of the weather,” said Butler. Once he accomplished that goal, he held a meeting with the agencies involved in the project to see how they could support Flanagan.
Flanagan smiles as he recounts his story of the remarkable acts of kindness from Butler, local businesses, and the Henrico community. Although a friend initially advised Flanagan to avoid talking to building inspectors, Butler quickly gained Flanagan’s trust by going above and beyond to assist him during his time of need. “Right away … he talked about what they could do to … help me. He just stepped up and started doing things for me. A bunch of other people jumped in … John was right there the whole time” said Flanagan.
Butler says he understands he can’t help everyone, but if people are willing to be helped, he wants to try his best to do what he can. Trying his best sometimes means finding creative ways to help others. As Butler explains, “People think about building inspectors in a very stereotypical way…but we have to be creative problem-solvers”, which he did after realizing Flanagan was on a fixed income with no homeowner’s insurance. Butler’s ability to creatively problem-solve even inspired his family to volunteer outside of work hours to help Flanagan. His coworkers also pitched in to help by cleaning Flanagan’s home and getting rid of belongings that Flanagan no longer needed.
Butler’s actions fostered a friendship between the two and inspired an entire community to serve. However, Butler’s willingness to go above and beyond to assist Flanagan is not unusual for him. As he explains, “the Walter Flanagans of the world … we don’t want to be the exception in Henrico County … we want them to be the norm.” Butler believes that there are a lot of people out there willing to help residents like Walter Flanagan, and feels it is essential to network and find the right people who are willing to help.
The outpouring of support from the Henrico community has moved Flanagan to give back. He now wants to donate his time to serve others saying, “For every bit of help that I got, I want to do the same thing for somebody else.” Flanagan never looks at his situation as overwhelming, and never feels like giving up. He says that his situation has given him a new perspective about people in need.
Butler’s actions are an outstanding example of “The Henrico Way.” During a Board of Supervisors meeting, County Manager John Vithoulkas beamed with pride as he shared the story during Manager’s Comments. In his words, “[This example] Illustrates the amazing heart that this county’s government and our community have.” You can feel that sense of pride and gratitude when talking to Butler and Flanagan about the events of December 4 and all that followed. “I think that we are all very fortunate to work where we do … and live where we do …when the opportunity (presents itself) we have to seize the opportunity to do the right thing for our fellow citizens,” says Butler. For Flanagan, “the thing that I recognize in John and a lot of these people … [is that] it’s not the job that they are doing. It’s just them personally being involved … it’s a way of living.” And that’s exactly what the Henrico Way is all about: being personally invested in making a difference whenever possible for the residents we serve.