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September 30. 2013 11:26PM

For this Marine in need, help wasn’t hard to find

LONDONDERRY — Good Marines always have each other’s backs, both on and off the battlefield.

So when local Marines learned that one of their own had lost nearly all of his belongings in a house fire last month, naturally they stepped in to help.

On Thursday afternoon, when members of Company B, 1st Battalion, 25th Marines gathered inside the Londonderry Reserve Center before a long weekend of rifle training at Fort Devens, there was a special surprise waiting for Lance Cpl. Joshua Steiss.

The 23-year-old Meredith native, who moved to the Boston area in 2012 after his deployment to Afghanistan ended, was at home in Jamaica Plain on the afternoon of Aug. 17 when a fire broke out in his apartment building.

Steiss, who wants to be a Boston firefighter, said he wasn’t feeling well that day and had been resting on the couch.

“When I got up for a drink of water, the porch was on fire,” Steiss recalled. “The fire was very well under way by that time.”

Steiss, his girlfriend and neighbors all escaped the building unharmed, though Steiss’s cat didn’t survive the fire. Fire officials believe the fire was caused by a neighbor’s unattended cigarette.

Though Steiss didn’t know it at the time, one of his commanding officers, Capt. James Colvin, was among the Boston firefighters who responded.

“The parts of the building that weren’t damaged by the fire were damaged by water,” he said. “So we pretty much had to start over again.”

Steiss has since found an apartment in Dorchester, and family members have helped him with some furnishings. The Marines helped with the rest.

Word of Steiss’s situation spread to the Granite State Detachment of the Marine Corps League, which immediately began raising money.

The organization, which has about 50 members, doesn’t turn its back on fellow veterans in time of need, member Frank Diekmann said.

“This is a man who ran out of a fire with, literally, just the clothes on his back,” Diekmann said. “So we began selling raffle tickets and taking donations.”

By last week, the organization had raised $1,000 toward the cause.

Diekmann and Bruce Katz, the detachment’s junior vice commandant, presented a check to Steiss during unit formation last week.

The unit currently has around 160 members, according to Maj. John Roma.

“Lance Cpl. Steiss lost everything, even his uniforms and gear,” said 1st Sgt. Rocco DeCamillo. “It was a pretty traumatic event, and it could happen to any one of us.”

Steiss said he doubted that support would end with last week’s donation — after all, several of the guys he served with have already offered to help.

“After drill weekends end, you may hang up your cammies, but the help doesn’t stop,” he said.aguilmet@newstote.com


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