The Extreme Home Makeover in Texas

By Jeanie Fossati, Fire Corps Texas State Advocate

The following is the firsthand account of Fire Corps Texas State Advocate Jeanie Fossati’s experience helping the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition crew to build a new house for volunteer firefighter Mizzy Zdroj and her family, who lost their home in the devastating Bastrop wildfire. The Heart of Pines Volunteer Fire Department also received a makeover. Click here for additional information and photos from the event.

It was quite an experience …

On the first day…not knowing what to expect, Fire Corps shirts and caps in hand…Richard Castillo, the Fire Corps Texas Regional Advocate and I drove to the staging area between Bastrop and Smithville, in Bastrop County, Texas. Volunteers from around the state were already there, and we were all anxious and ready to begin our task.

Immediately we were handed hard hats and a blue “Extreme Makeover” tee-shirt, a prerequisite attire before boarding a yellow school bus full of other volunteers, all looking just like us…full of anticipation  and excitement as we rode the bouncing bus 5 miles to the home site. Then, there it was, we had arrived, the big bus proved it, the big bright tinsel-covered “EXTREME MAKEOVER BUS” that is, right there in front of us, but there was also a mind altering reminder on the other side of the road as to why we were there.

When we got off the bus, we were standing in front of an empty lot full of debris and burned objects among acres of fire blackened pine tree trunks. This used to be someone’s home, the Zdroj’s family home to be exact, and all their possessions were at the edge of the street reduced to ruins, except for one thing…in the middle of this empty lot was a 10’x20’ shed that had been painted with artistic designs. Mizzy Zdroj was an artist, when she wasn’t fighting fires for the Heart of Pines Volunteer Fire Department,  and even though her surroundings were full of devastation, and she had lost everything , including all her art, she had still managed to paint some beauty in what was going to be her family’s home.  This shed was where the Zdroj family was planning to live, all four of them, as there were 4 beds inside….until they got the knock on the door by Ty and the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition cast.

We didn’t have time to dwell on that image as we were hurried off and all escorted to the end of the street where we rehearsed over and over. “The Texas Calvary” was coming to help build the house. Leading the volunteers was Santa on a big longhorn bull, of course a BULL… after all it is TEXAS. We all shouted and hooped and hollered as we were filmed coming down the road to the build site all dressed in our blue shirts and red and green hard hats. This gave me a quick indication of what was to come in the days ahead.

Richard was not able to come back again until the reveal day, but I kept him posted on the progress, with a different adventure to tell every day. Sometimes working with the production crew and designers as an “extra,” or working in the “Art World,” assisting the carpenters, landscaping, and then the staging and decorating. I handed out Fire Corps shirts and material to everyone including the Project Manager, the Producer, the Designers, and of course the Zdroj family, as I explained that Fire Corps was all about… “Citizens helping Fire and EMS Departments.”

The build was during the holiday season so the build and the whole production took on a Christmas theme. It was quite interesting, seeing how much goes on behind the scene of this ABC production. The field across from the build site was packed with travel trailers, and 18 wheeled trucks that held tools, building supplies, lighting and sound equipment. Even in the late hours of the night, the scene was lit up like daylight. It amazed me how organized the chaos was. Volunteers had 24 hour shifts, there was always someone working. Mother Nature didn’t care…we had rain the whole week, but nothing stopped the progress.  The build site and all the roads were slippery with mud, and I took that mud home with me every night, sometimes working til 2 in the morning.

After only one week, 106 hours to be exact, the ABC Extreme Makeover team, along with 3,000 volunteer citizens made this life changing event happen…

…“Move That Bus! Move That Bus!  Everyone was ready for the reveal. You could see Mizzy’s sincere appreciation to have been selected, but her complete joy when she saw the newly remodeled fire station that had been kept a total surprise was quite emotional. She and all the firefighters were not just given a new home and equipment, but a new sense of hope for the future of the community.

I am glad I was able to help represent Fire Corps and be a part of this new beginning for the entire “Lost Pines” family in Bastrop County, Texas.

…I’ll say it again… It was quite an experience!!