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Two Okemos teachers helped fellow residents escape Knob Hill Apartments fire

December 30, 2022
Photo of Trisha Funk and Olivia Becker one day before the Knob Hill Apartments fire. Funk and Becker used this photo for their holiday cards, which have all burned in the fire.
Photo of Trisha Funk and Olivia Becker one day before the Knob Hill Apartments fire. Funk and Becker used this photo for their holiday cards, which have all burned in the fire.

On the morning of Dec. 21, Okemos High School teachers and roommates Trisha Funk and Olivia Becker had just started watching “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation." They were sitting on the couch and drinking a cup of coffee when they heard what sounded like a gunshot.

They looked out their window to see a police car driving by, assuming it was following the direction of the supposed gunshot. They quickly realized it wasn’t a gunshot they heard, but the sound of breaking glass. The apartment building attached to theirs was on fire.

“We look at the building next to us, there's huge flames coming out of the top floor,” Funk said. “There were flames shooting out of the stairway. ... We just looked at each other and we're like, 'Oh my god, we’ve got to get out, the building attached to our building is fully on fire.' Not just like in one apartment, it was huge flames going out.”

Still in their pajamas, Funk and Becker put on their boots and coats and grabbed their purses, keys, wallets and dog. They even remembered to lock their apartment door. 

“It was like surreal because of how big it already was,” Becker said. “It didn't even look real, like it didn't process for a second that that was actually happening. But then we were like, 'We've got to get out.'"

While the building next door became engulfed in flames, the hallway of their third-floor apartment building was quiet. They said there was no noise of other residents escaping the building and no fire alarms to alert people.

“So we split up. And we just started knocking and banging on every single door in the apartment complex,” Funk said. “People had absolutely no idea. … Some of the apartments were unlocked – we just walked right in. We were just like, 'You got to go, you got to get out, the apartments on fire.' I mean, people are just in their living room chilling, playing with their kids, playing with their dogs like completely oblivious to the fact that the building is fully on fire.”

Funk and Becker woke up residents who were sleeping, helped an older resident grab needed medication and even carried pets outside to safety.

“It was just the confusion that was almost scarier too,” Becker said. “We saw (the fire) but that's because our apartment was right on that corner that connected to the other building, so we were like pretty close to see it, but anyone who was on the back side of the building ... they would not have known.”

After about ten minutes, Funk, Becker and the rest of the residents from their building had made it outside to watch the firefighters connect their hoses, begin putting out the fire and rescue people from the other building.

Funk said that while they were not close with any of the other residents prior to this, they have all found each other through Facebook and have connected through the situation that they all find themselves in.

One of the things they have been able to talk about with the other residents has been the troubles with their renter’s insurance.

“We thought that we had renter's insurance ... through DTN through our lease,” Funk said. “And every month we'd get charged and it was called renter's insurance. … What we didn't realize is that that's not really renter's insurance, that it was very misleading. That was actually more liability insurance, if we were the ones that had set the fire, to protect us, but that's not what happened. So none of our personal property or our belongings are covered by insurance.”

Funk said that almost every single person she’s talked to is in the same situation and they have received very little compassion from management when they voiced their complaints.

“It has been nice to like talk to other people and like, we're not alone,” Funk said. “Everything we're feeling, they're also feeling.”

Funk and Becker said that in the days following the fire, they have seen an outpouring of generosity from friends and family members. Funk said everything has been "overwhelming" and "a lot to process."

“You have so much stuff and then you just don't have anything," Funk said. "And then you have to start from the ground up.”

Funk said that while she and Becker have a huge community of supporters to help them through this time, they want to make sure that the other people who lost everything also feel supported.

“I just feel bad because if you're living in Knob Hill to begin with, you probably don't have that much money,” Funk said. “And then when you lose everything, and you don't have renter's insurance, it's hard to comprehend how some of those people are going to get back on their feet.”

Becker said she has learned not to take anything for granted – anything can happen without a moment's notice.

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“It's humbling,” Becker said. “It makes you think about what actually is important.”

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