The following story appeared in the June 9 Idaho Catholic Register.
Inexplicably, a fire stayed self-contained for 26 hours at Westside Drive-In. (Courtesy photo/Deacon Lou Aaron)
By MaryLou Molitor
for the Idaho Catholic Register
BOISE – Lou Aaron leads a double life. He is a classically-trained chef who has had a long and successful career in some of the finest kitchens across the United States. In his other life, Chef Lou is also Deacon Lou, a permanent deacon assigned to Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Boise.
Deacon Lou is a faith-filled man who regularly mentors recovering addicts, alcoholics and even work-release prisoners. “It’s a challenge,” he says, but it’s clearly a challenge he is happy to meet head-on. Owning two Westside Drive-In locations in Boise gives him a unique opportunity to put his faith into action. His son Josh and daughter, Emily, are both actively involved in the restaurants’ management, and with their Dad’s blessing, they hire many of these high-risk folks to fill open positions. In fact, Deacon Lou reports that up to 80 percent of his staff is made up of these individuals.
On Saturday night, May 6, one of the grills was left on after the restaurant had closed. Since Westside Drive-In is not open on Sundays, the grill continued to overheat, eventually setting fire to a 55-gallon trash can nearby.
When Deacon Lou’s son, Josh, arrived at 5:30 a.m. to reopen, he discovered a kitchen filled with smoke and saw flames still burning. A later review of security camera video showed that the fire started around 2 a.m. on Sunday. It had burned for almost 26 hours before Josh arrived. Firefighters were able to suppress the flames quickly and were in disbelief that the building itself was still standing, largely undamaged.
“It was an absolute miracle that the building didn’t burn down completely,” Deacon Lou said.
There were other miracles. For some reason, the vent hood’s fire suppression system should have been triggered, but wasn’t. Because it is a dry-powder system, it would have deposited fire-suppressing powder all over the restaurant, necessitating a much more extensive cleanup.
As a result of the fire, acrid smoke invaded every square inch of the building and a thick layer of ash covered everything. This meant disposing of all the meats, cheeses, vegetables as well as all paper goods. Even the ketchup and mustard bottles were melted almost beyond recognition.
Despite extensive smoke and ash damage, the disaster cleanup crew was able to entirely restore the building, removing the smoke smell and wiping down surfaces, including the dozens of pictures that adorn the walls.
Another miracle: The restaurant was up and running on Friday, May 11, four days after the fire was discovered.
Reflecting on the fire weeks later, Deacon Lou is convinced that divine intervention was at play with no logical explanation as to why the entire building was not engulfed in flames.
“We had just recently conducted an employee meeting to go over safety checklists and procedures,” he said. “Having this happen so soon after that meeting was a real wakeup call to my employees. It brought home the importance of the training we provided. It’s made everyone a lot more careful.”
“God is with us and watches over us, and He takes care of us in ways we can hardly imagine,” Deacon Lou said. “We need to pay closer attention, so we learn to notice every instance of His great providence and thank Him every day of our lives.”
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