Smart thermostat alerts Lower St. Croix firefighter to his own house fire

20 March 2024

Matt Lebeis was at work on Saturday night when his Ecobee3 Lite Smart Thermostat alerted him that an unusually high temperature had been detected at his house in Lake St. Croix Beach.

Lebeis, who works at the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant in St. Paul, had programmed the Ecobee3 to notify him when the temperature in his house went above 79 degrees or dropped below 60 degrees.

“All of a sudden, I got an alert, a text message and an email from Ecobee,” he said. “I watched my house temperature rise. It started at 85 and then went up to 90. I thought, ‘Is my thermostat not working?’ I was unsure of what was happening, and then it dawned on me that it might be a fire.”

Lebeis, who also is a firefighter with the Lower St. Croix Valley Fire Department, called his sister, Jackie, who was in the area, and Fire Chief Jim Stanley and asked them each to check on the house.

Stanley, who lives six blocks away in Lakeland, was on the scene within minutes. He called in the fire around 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

“There was a neighbor outside when I got there, and he didn’t have a clue. The smoke wasn’t even coming out of the house,” Stanley said. “If he had not had the thermostat, it would have been a total loss.”

The highest temperature recorded by the Ecobee was 131 degrees, Lebeis said.

Stanley said he and another firefighter were able to deploy a fire-suppression device through the back door of the house, located in the 1800 block of Quello Avenue.

“That knocked down the fire long enough for us to get the engine set up with an attack crew,” he said. “Fortunately, there was a (fire) hydrant right outside their house – within 100 feet.”

Two dogs lost

The cause of the fire, which started in the kitchen, remains under investigation, according to Stanley. There was smoke and soot damage throughout the house, but the actual fire damage was contained to the kitchen, he said.

Neither Lebeis nor his fiancee, Danielle Vinson, were home at the time of the fire. Vinton’s sons, Jay Ashley, 11, and Miloh Ashley, 9, were staying at the grandparents’ house.

Rescue dogs Boots, left, and Hank Williams died in the fire. (Courtesy of Matt Lebeis)

Sadly, the family’s two dogs, Boots, a 9-year-old Bluetick Coonhound, and Hank Williams, a 9-month-old mutt, perished due to smoke inhalation, Lebeis said. “They were both rescue dogs,” he said. “We laid them to rest on Monday, and we are working on mending our hearts from their untimely departure.”

Lebeis, who graduated from Northern Dakota Training Academy in Inver Grove Heights in August 2023, and Vinson, who works as a medical support assistant at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System, are getting married on June 22. They are staying in a hotel in Hudson, Wis., until temporary housing can be arranged, he said.

Friends and family have organized a GoFundMe online fundraiser for the family. “We lost pretty much everything in the house, including a good amount of the things we had purchased for the wedding,” he said.

Any money raised is going to buy clothes and necessities, he said. As of Wednesday afternoon, the fundraiser had raised more than $4,000 of its $25,000 goal.

Lebeis said he will be “eternally grateful” for his Ecobee smart thermostat, which he bought at Costco about three years ago.

“It was, like, $150, but it’s worth thousands more,” he said. “It saved the inside of our house. We can rebuild there, and that’s thanks to the thermostat. They are going to have to clean out from the inside, but it’s not a fresh build from the bottom. … It was the best case of the worst-case scenario.”

Lebeis said Wednesday that he hopes sharing his story “can help save someone’s house or, more importantly, their loved ones.”

“Imagine if someone had elderly parents living on their own, and they had a notification that was able to get the fire department there two minutes earlier,” he said. “That could literally be a life or death difference. $150 is a very cheap price of mind.”

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