Outpouring of Support For Family of Triplets

By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 6, 2008

A small army of friends, relatives and strangers across the Washington region has banded together over the past three days to support a Bethesda family after a fire destroyed their home and left 2-year-old triplets hospitalized.

Yesterday, according to Children's National Medical Center, all three boys remained in critical condition, despite reports that two of the three had improved.

Friends of the Petrucelli family continued to collect money and organize meal schedules and furniture donations. The hope, many said, is that once the triplets recover, they and their parents will have everything they need to create a new life and home together again.

The fire Wednesday afternoon began in malfunctioning electrical components in the backyard hot tub and grew to a blazing, smoky inferno. The heat was so intense that the boys' father, Michael Petrucelli, could not enter the house despite repeated attempts.

Fire investigators have said there was no sign of smoke detectors in the two-story colonial home. Firefighters have also said they struggled with netting over the cribs, costing them precious minutes as they tried to retrieve the children, Aiden, Bricen and Coleson.

Lisa Reichmann, president of the Montgomery County Parents of Multiples, spoke out yesterday as a representative of the family, expressing gratitude "for the heroic efforts" of county firefighters. In a statement, she also sought to address any perception that the Petrucellis were not safety-minded.

"The family did in fact have smoke detectors and active carbon monoxide detectors. Unfortunately, they were in the process of upgrading from hard-wired smoke detectors to new wireless ones when the fire occurred," she said.

Of the netting, Reichmann said so-called crib tents are commonly used by parents with multiple children to keep them from crawling out of their beds and falling to the ground.

"It's a safety thing, like gates, to keep the kids from hurting themselves," she said.

Michael Petrucelli and his wife, Ami Susan, were among her group's 400 members, most of them parents of twins and triplets. Ami Susan was particularly active, Reichmann said.

She often met with parents expecting triplets and reached out especially to parents whose multiple newborns were hospitalized in neonatal intensive-care units.

"Her own children had been in

NICU when they were born, so she has a real heart for that," Reichmann said.

When news of the fire was posted on her group's online forum, hundreds of e-mails poured in with offers of money, replacement cribs and clothes. A similar outpouring occurred within a network of former officials at the Department of Homeland Security, where Michael Petrucelli had served as director of citizenship and immigration services.

"The DHS family is a strong one, a vast group of people who have their arms wrapped around Michael, Ami Susan and the triplets in the wake of this tragedy," said S. Michelle Nix, spokeswoman for former DHS secretary Tom Ridge.

Yesterday, those two groups as well as other friends and relatives set up an Internet site for donations to help the family:

"It's inspiring to see how everyone is just coming together to help," Reichmann said. "It's a family that's much beloved."

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