SHREWSBURY — Deborah Quinn got the chance to meet the woman who had saved her home — and possibly her life — after her home security company flew the dispatcher from Florida on Tuesday.

At a news conference outside the Quinns’ Shrewsbury home, the family embraced and thanked Kathy Taylor when she stepped out of a company car. “God bless you. I’m glad you’re here,” Taylor told Quinn as the two held hands.

Last month, while the rest of her family was hiking in the Adirondacks, Quinn stayed home to teach summer school and refinish the hardwood floors of the fixer-upper she and her husband Kevin bought four years ago.Around 3:30 a.m. on July 31, Quinn awoke to a blaring fire alarm and a smoke-filled house. Downstairs in the living room, she saw what she described as a “blowtorch,” shooting out of a tray she had used to hold a golden pecan floor stain. “The flame was as tall as me,” she recalled.

She opened the door to the garage to retrieve a fire extinguisher. She doused the fire, but it “came back just as strong as before,” she said.


In a state of shock, Quinn said she forgot the fire safety rules she taught her children and her students. Standing near a door, with a phone in her hand, she couldn’t think of what to do.

“The smoke was starting to overtake me,” Quinn said. “Even though I thought I knew what to do in the event of the fire — go outside, call 911 — I couldn’t do those things.”

Suddenly, she received a call from ADT, a home security company.

In a monitoring center in Jacksonsville, Fla., Taylor had received a burglar alarm notification when Quinn opened the garage door. In a recording of the call released by the company, Taylor’s soothing, steady voice coaxed crucial information out of Quinn between her labored breaths and coughs.


Quinn told Taylor that she needed the fire department, and Taylor called firefighters, who arrived three minutes later. The house sustained minimal damage from the fire, with some charred floor planks as a reminder that things could have been a lot worse.

“That call just meant everything to me,” Quinn said, noting that she appreciated Taylor’s calm amid the chaos. “I was completely alone and then I wasn’t.” “Over the phone, the only thing you have to judge it on is their voice. In her case, she was very faint and disoriented,” Taylor said. “I’ve been in the company almost 12 years and I’ve never experienced anything like this. We treat every one like the real thing because you never know.”

Sarah Quinn, 24, the oldest of Deborah Quinn’s three children, said she hoped the fire would raise awareness about spontaneous combustion.

“I’ve heard of it, but it’s not something you think will happen. We had to learn the hard way that it’s real,” she said. “Even someone like Mom, who’s extremely prepared — it could happen to her.”

Deborah Quinn said her insurance company will pay for floor repairs and said she is done with floor finishing.

“The floor was the last thing we needed to do, but now I’m leaving it to the professionals,” Quinn said.

Sarah Wu can be reached at sarah.wu@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @sarah_wu.