Smoke detector prevents 'huge tragedy'

Cary Ashby • Jul 16, 2018 at 4:00 AM

Firefighters regularly preach the need for functioning smoke detectors.

In the case of a recent bathroom fire in Norwalk, authorities said a smoke detector saved multiple lives — the two apartment residents and likely the other tenants in the basement and upstairs units. Fire Chief John Soisson credits the long-time partnership with Fisher-Titus Medical Center on the smoke detector program in being instrumental in preventing a July 5 blaze that could have been much worse.

“Countless fires have been detected early and easily mitigated like the one on Seminary Street because of this partnership,” he said. “The notification allowed this to be a simple call for us as opposed to fatalities.”

Capt. Brett Beers, who was in charge of that shift, agreed.

“A smoke detector is the No. 1 way to save lives,” he said. “We carry them on all our trucks, but the fact that Fisher-Titus has stepped up for that number of years is huge because we’ve seen the consequences of fires (where) there are no smoke detectors.

“This fire is a great example of what have happened if they didn’t have it,” added Beers, who stresses a message he tells all the firefighters. “We have them; let’s get them in use. … In this case, it’s a great example of what smoke detectors do for you.” 

The tenant, David Shoemaker, said he is very grateful for having one.

“I’m glad I had the detector,” he said. “That’s what got us up and out of here.”

In the early 2000s, the Huron County Firefighters Association partnered with Project Leadership of Huron County and Fisher-Titus to provide smoke detectors to target groups including the elderly and low-income residents of the area.

“Each fire department, including Norwalk, would install smoke detectors provided by FTMC for these residents (who) were in need. Norwalk has continued this partnership with the hospital ever since. We carry detectors from Fisher-Titus on all of our rigs and at the station. We install them if we enter an occupant’s house (that) doesn’t have one,” Soisson said.

Shoemaker had asked his landlord about the situation years ago. He said the man told him he doesn’t install smoke detectors because when tenants leave, they take the batteries.

“That is stupid as far as I’m concerned,” Shoemaker added.

As of press time, the other tenants in the house didn’t have smoke detectors in their apartments.


Responding to the fire

Firefighters received a call at 5:51 a.m. July 5 about a bathroom fire at 39-A W. Seminary St.

“Upon arrival, we pulled up and there was heavy smoke conditions throughout the whole downstairs apartment and the upstairs unit as well,” Beers said. “At that point, we went in, checked the scene out and we found that a bathroom trash can had started on fire. … It started from a discarded cigarette ash.”

The crew then ventilated the apartment.

“Once we cleared out (the smoke) a little bit, we found that the fire had extended into the vanity, the wall around the sink and then up into the drop-ceiling. At that point we had to do some extensive overhaul — basically tearing the bathroom apart (and) extinguished some hot spots,” Beers said.

Firefighters had the situation under control about 34 minutes after they arrived.

About 3:40 a.m. Shoemaker put his ashes in the can, as had been his habit for years. He said the experience taught him to put his ashes in an ash tray now.

“The resident had put an ash in the trash can and then went back to sleep. He said about 10 minutes to 6 (a.m.) was (woken up) by the smoke detector,” Beers said. “Thank God he had them.”

Shoemaker used a fire extinguisher on the blaze before the crew arrived. He said once he used the extinguisher, he notified his three neighbors and they left the residence.

“They didn’t know anything about it until they opened the door and saw the smoke. … There are four families that live in this house. I’m the only who has one,” Shoemaker added, referring to a smoke detector. “Everybody is fine. Nobody got hurt.”

Firefighters had been told Shoemaker extinguished the blaze.

“Even though he felt like he had it out, he didn’t. He knocked the main body of the fire down, but there was a lot to do there,” Beers said.

Shoemaker and his live-in girlfriend, Vivian Knight, left their first-floor apartment as did the residents who live in the basement and the two upstairs units.  

“If we didn’t have (the smoke detectors), we wouldn’t have anything,” Shoemaker said.


Smoke detector, fire extinguisher tips

Beers considers getting everyone out of the house safely a “a huge success for the smoke detector program.”

“There is no doubt it could have spread upstairs because the only thing above it was a drop-ceiling above (the bathroom) that started burning and there were several pass-throughs where the fire (could have run) right upstairs.”

For apartment and rental home residents, Beers said if the landlord doesn’t want to purchase a fire extinguisher, the tenants should buy one themselves.

“In this case, it saved a whole bunch of damage and prevented a lot of other things from going on,” he added. “They should be looking for one that is marked ‘ABC,’ which covers all classes of fire. You don’t want to go buy a real big one; you want something that you can handle. All the big-box stores carry multi-purpose type extinguishers.

“I’m very thankful he had the smoke detector because otherwise it could have been a huge tragedy,” Beers said.

Norwalk Reflector Videos