University Fire Was Tragedy in Crowded House

A small fire, but with toxic smoke, killed one University of Cincinnati student — while another remains in critical condition — on New Year’s Day.

Firefighters had stormed into the house and up the stairs. The smoke was 7 inches from the floor and had already poured up the stairway to the third floor.

Other firefighters were climbing extension ladders from the driveway up to a window.

The fire crews went up the main stairs. Some turned left and put out the fire in the bedroom. The flames never even made it to the hallway.

Some turned right and up the next flight to the the third floor. They arrived just as the firefighters on the ladders were breaking the windows.

Kohls and Garner were on the the floor in the attic, suggesting they had tried to get out but were overcome by smoke before they could make it to the stairs.

“People think they can make it through smoke, but there are high levels of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide in that smoke,” Potter said. “It will drop you.”

State and city building codes say that when six or more non-related adults live in a house, it must have two ways out of a third-floor living area. This house had only one.

Ten people were in the house that morning. Only eight made it out safely.

It was not the first group of students to live in the house, just two blocks from the UC campus.
Carly Tamborski and Anne Nagengast were part of a group of six young women who lived in the Digby Avenue house during the 2009-10 school year when they were UC students. Tamborski and Nagengast had the two bedrooms on the third floor.

Nagengast was nervous about the possibility of a fire. “We actually did think a lot about stuff like that,” said Nagengast, now 25 and a nurse.

“We had crazy parents and a lot of us were nursing students or in medical areas, so we were worriers, I guess,” Nagengast said. “We had fire ladders that we kept under our beds.” The ladders are to be hung over a windowsill to allow escape if necessary.

Both women enjoyed the house and its proximity to campus. And they were college students, so they didn’t mind six people living in a house the Hamilton County auditor lists as a four-bedroom.

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