GAITHERSBURG, Md. (WJLA/ABC News) - When Captain Edward “Flip” Klein was severely injured in an IED explosion in Afghanistan two years ago - losing both his legs, his right arm, and three fingers on his left hand - he thought he had survived the worst.
Then, last week, he and his wife, Jessica, cheated death again when fire broke out in their new home near Gaithersburg, consuming the entire house within minutes.
“We smelled smoke, the lights started to flicker, the alarms started going off,” Capt. Klein told ABC 7 News.
Alerted by the Klein’s two dogs, their neighbors rushed in to help carry Capt. Klein from the home.
“It was amazing people were coming in and stepping on the burning front porch of this house to pull me into the front yard,” Capt. Klein said.
Everything they owned was burned to the ground – including the van that was specially equipped so Capt. Klein could drive on his own. It was a devastating loss, especially since they had moved in just five months ago after living at Walter Reed Hospital for 15 months while Capt. Klein recovered from his wounds.
“This house was our first chance to be real people again,” Jessica Klein siad.
Building for America’s Bravest
Within days, the Kleins were inundated with offers of help. But the most significant gift of all came from the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. The foundation’s CEO, Frank Siller, called Jessica with the news that she and her husband would be put at the top of the waiting list for a brand-new home equipped with the latest technology.
“When she found out that were moving them to the top of the list she broke down … very emotional,” said Siller. “She said, ‘I can’t believe what you’re doing for us.’ I said, ‘America’s doing it for you.’"
Siller’s family created the Foundation’s “Building for America’s Bravest” program in honor of his brother, Stephen, a hero firefighter who died trying to save lives on Sept. 11, 2001.
“To be building these houses for the most catastrophically injured, I don’t know that we could be doing anything more worthy for these guys who paid such a high price protecting our country,” he said.
The Unsung Heroes Behind the Wounded Warriors
So far the Foundation has built 36 smart homes, each costing about half-a-million dollars and designed to help meet each wounded warrior's specific needs.
“Off an iPad he can control the heat, light, air conditioning … the doors opening closing, kitchen cabinets open at the bottom,” said Siller. “So if he wants a glass and he’s in his wheelchair he doesn’t have to say, ‘Can someone get me a glass of water please?’”
The Kleins’ new home will be paid for in part by the Home Depot Foundation, which just donated a million dollars to build 19 homes for the most seriously injured veterans.
“In Flip’s case, we’re going to build Flip‘s home,” said Gaven Gregory, director of the Home Depot Foundation. “We’re there to support Flip and our passion about getting his home built as fast as possible.”
And to fast-track it even more, all the online donations that come in over the next two weeks on will go to help build the Kleins' home.
“All the money coming in is going straight to Flip and Jessie’s house, so we can build it for them right away,” said Frank Siller. “Flip paid a big price for our country. He needs our help right now.”
For the Kleins, it’s a dream come true.
“We are looking forward to our ‘forever’ home,” said Jessica Klein. “When everything is uncertain – knowing this is actually going to be a reality is huge.”