No Smoke Detectors Installed; Chimney Fire Discovered Too Late
A chimney fire in a two-story home with basement—but without smoke detectors—claimed the lives of a mother and her two children in Olean, N.Y. Investigators believe that when the woman smelled smoke, she took her son with her to the basement to check. But the fire had been burning for some time. She was trapped when fire mushroomed into the stairway.
The fire department received a 911 call at 1:49 p.m. last Dec. 19 reporting a house fire at 1719 West Fall Rd. The caller stated the fire was really going and he also thought someone was inside the home.
Engine 39, a 1250-gpm pumper with a four-man crew, and Ambulance 250, with a two-man crew, were dispatched from Central Fire Station under the command of Lt. Albert Abdo. Engine 42, a 1250-gpm pumper with a threeman crew was sent from Station 1.
Arriving on the scene at 1:54, Abdo found heavy smoke showing. Engine 42 was positioned by a hydrant on the northwest corner of the property and was supplied by a 3-inch line.
Photo by Andrew Waterman
A two-man crew from E-42 masked up and entered the home with a 150foot, 1 ½ -inch preconnected line through a door in the family room. This team encountered heavy smoke and heat, but no fire. As the other fire fighters were masking up, Abdo found fire in the southwest corner of the two-story section of the home. A 200-foot 1 ⅛ -inch line was stretched to the rear, and the fire was knocked down in this area. As fire fighters tried to reach the second floor, it was found that the stairs were completely burned away. The fire on the rest of the first floor was knocked down, and a search for victims was conducted. No one was found at this time.
At 2:10, Abdo requested one off-duty platoon to report to the fire scene. Captain John Gibbons ordered the second story laddered, and two 1 ½-inch lines and a preconnected 2 ½-inch line were placed in service on the heavily involved second floor and attic.
At 2:22, Chief Charles Young arrived on the scene. He requested that the Hinsdale and Weston’s Mills Volunteer Fire Departments respond to the city for standby. An additional off-duty platoon was also called into the city stations.
After the fire was knocked down on the second floor, Young ordered a search of this area. This was completed at 2:30, with no victims being found.
The northwest section of the twostory roof was ventilated, and heavy fire was found in this area. The east side of the house was laddered and the 2 ½-inch line was used in the attic window to control the fire. The owner of the home arrived on the scene, informing Abdo that his wife and children were inside and could possibly be in the rear bedroom or basement. Young ordered another search of the first floor and basement while fire suppression continued.
At 3:05, a crew found the body of a baby in the rear first-floor bedroom. Young called for the coroner to report to the fire scene. About 10 minutes later, a crew in the basement found the bodies of the mother and the other child.
Investigators called in
Young requested the Cattaraugus County Fire Investigation Team to respond to the fire scene at 3:50. A special request was also made to the Chautauqua County Fire Investigation Team to assist.
Investigators from Olean fire and police departments along with the two county teams concluded their investigation at midnight on Friday. The fire was determined to be of accidental origin from a chimney fire. When the chimney burned out, it ignited wallpaper covering an unused vent hole. As the fire spread, it ignited paneling and other materials used to box in around the chimney.
This home was one of the oldest in the city. It was a wooden frame, balloontype construction with a one-story addition. The fire rapidly spread upward to consume the second floor and attic from the stairway.
A total of 20 Olean fire fighters battled the fire in 10-degree-below weather and remained on the scene for over nine hours.