Last week, a tragic scenario played out in a Gloucester, Va. house fire. A family went to sleep, a fire broke out and four people lost their lives. I read where the community has shown an outpouring of love through their efforts to support this family in their time of tremendous loss. My hope is to attempt to educate each reader, based upon what I have read about this fire. Let me start by saying that this fire is still under investigation, with preliminary reports stating an accidental cause, possibly electrical, and I even read a report tying this fire to a space heater. I do not want to seem insensitive about the great loss suffered by this family, but I do want to honor those that lost their lives in this fire by offering ways to prevent this from happening to anyone else.
This was an early-morning fire, with everyone apparently being sound asleep. One thing that I have not heard or read about in the news reports was whether or not there were properly placed and operational smoke alarms. If they were present, then take this as a reminder. Properly located and operational smoke alarms are the best means of early notification of a fire, especially when everyone is asleep. When I first became the Community Program Coordinator for CF and EMS, I was asked to comment on a video where children slept through smoke alarms activating. It is important for families to do fire drills in the home, teaching children to know the sound and respond to activating smoke alarms.
This fire obviously progressed very quickly. I understand that one person escaped by bailing out of a window. If there were a chance that these people could survive, it would have to have been through a well-planned and practiced escape plan. The three children were seven, two and six-months, which means that the seven-year old could possibly self rescue with training, while the two-yearold and the six-month old would have to be assisted out. There is only one opportunity for fire victims to escape on their own, or with assistance from other occupants. If the fire blocks access to family members, then firefighters are the only chance that these people have, and that is only if they are quickly called, and have a quick response.
It is my understanding that the grandmother had escaped, but went back in to save her grandchildren. You have heard me say over and over, “Get Out and Stay Out!” I can only imagine the horror that this grandmother felt, but the lesson for everyone reading this is that she died. Firefighters, dressed in full protective clothing and breathing apparatus, have lost their lives during search operations in burning buildings. An untrained and unprotected grandmother, grandfather, mother, father or sibling will most likely lose their life, attempting to go back in and rescue others.
If this fire was caused by a space heater, keep in mind that space heater fires spike during the cold months. There are some space heater safety tips, common to all space heaters. 1) Keep all combustibles at least three feet from space heaters. 2) Do not power electric space heaters with extension cords. 3) If a space heater is not working properly, either have it serviced or replace it.
While writing this article, I saw two reports of fires on the news. One destroyed a mobile home in Richmond, and another took two lives in Northern Virginia. Fires occur more frequently in colder weather, but fires can occur anytime. Prevent the fire or prepare for the fire; it’s your choice.